A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

I am not a smoker. I can’t really understand why anyone over the age of 22 with a developed sense of personal mortality bothers, really. No, I’m not one of those people that dissolves into ostentatious coughing fits while others are smoking nearby, and I can continue a conversation when a companion lights up a cigarette without wrinkling my nose. But suffice to say, I’m not a big fan.

So it is with absolutely no unfair bias that I say: a public smoking ban? Seriously? Bloomberg…ooh, shoot, did you not get the memo? We’re against fascism here. Geez, how embarrassing.

The law, which was signed in February and goes into effect in May, will ban smoking in parks, on beaches, and in a variety of other public spaces, including Times Square, which has now officially been purchased by the Disney company.

Here’s how I see it: I have a very loud voice. Also, I enjoy talking on my cell phone a great deal, as previously discussed. Now, I realize that the sound of me chatting away while sitting on a park bench could be less than pleasant for a fellow sitter. Unless someone walks up to me and directly asks me to kindly shut up, I doubt I will. I know I’m in plentiful company here.

So, how is this so different from someone smoking in my vicinity? Yes, I find it annoying. Yes, it pollutes my space. But also, and this is the important part, WE’RE OUTSIDE. In public. There are other people! Lots of them! And inconvenient though it may be, they do not live their lives anticipating the preferences of total strangers who happen to share these public, outdoor spaces. If you don’t like them, you’re going to have to stay home. It doesn’t have to be so bad, though. They have this thing called the Internet now, and I hear it has been a real boon to solitary types. Just Google “Second Life,” and you’ll be fine.

Maybe a woman sitting with her dog is bothersome to someone with an allergy nearby. Maybe a crying baby on the beach is enough to make the lady on the neighboring blanket go insane. Maybe that fat guy in a speedo making out with his girlfriend makes you want to wretch as you eat your Chipwich.

Perhaps…tough luck? Yes.

All that being said, we don’t have to be total cretins. I try not to yammer away too obnoxiously if I’m stationary and within close range of other people. And if someone were to come up to me politely and ask me to keep my voice down, I would do it. Similarly, if I were to go up to a smoker and ask her to puff in a direction other than my face, I’m guessing she’d oblige. Or maybe she’d argue with me, in which case I’d move because I’d realize she’s a belligerent nitwit.

The point is, we all do things irritate one another. And aside from attempting to maintain a baseline level of mutual respect for the fact that human life coexists with us, there’s not much we can do about it. We certainly can’t go banning personal freedoms because we don’t like them. You start down that road, and before you know it we’re all living in North Korea. And I just look awful in khakhi shades.

Okay, okay, I know. Second-hand smoke is bad and dangerous and very, very terrible. But smoking is already banned in every conceivable enclosed space. The only next logical step, if this is still unacceptable, is to criminalize the habit altogether. And in that case, before you know it we’re all living on the set of The Crucible. And I simply can’t imagine any of us will enjoy wearing silly bonnets or tiny little pants, not to mention dealing with all that other awful stuff that went down there, with the witches and whatnot.

That sounds like a pretty bleak future to me. Let’s get our priorities straight, people.

Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina Archives:

Bad Landord, Bad!

Bed Bug Torment

Go YankSox!

Me And My CrackBerry

An Ode To Seamless Web

Kitchen Nightmares

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Comments (28)
  1. niklu52 says:

    Bottom line….Keep giving away your rights, and pretty soon you won’t have any more.
    It starts here and never ends people, this NY, NJ area is ridicules with laws that you allow.

    1. greg says:

      Ridiculous* Anyways, I’ve said this to lots of people: our ‘rights’ keep growing in this country. 50 years ago you’d have a hard time marrying outside your race. Religious blue laws banned liquor sales on Sundays. Gay people were ALL in the closet. Smoking pot could get you 20 years in prison.
      The imaginary Nazi boogeymen…I don’t know where people get it from. If a restaurant has to post calories, giving the consumer more info in a free market economy, what ‘right’ is being taken away? The right to get duped? If you can’t smoke in a park, what ‘right’ is being taken away? The right to make adults and children breath in burning leaves? If everyone has these rights, then we need to achieve a balance when they come into conflict. Just because someone has a right to smoke doesn’t mean they have a right to smoke EVERYWHERE. I have a right to have sex, to pray, to eat and drink…but I don’t do those things on public transportation!

  2. greg says:

    When I’m in the car and the person ahead of me is smoking, I can smell it. In parks or smaller public squares you can smell a cigarette from 50 feet away. If I can smell it, I’m breathing in the smoke. I loved to smoke when I was younger, but from the other side, I can see how it’s more than annoying. Where does this ‘personal freedom’ argument end? If your choice is forcing smoke into my body, aren’t you violating my personal freedom?
    As far as the whole lame car exhaust argument, that can be stopped too. We have the technology. We have electric subways. We should have a ban on personal vehicles in Manhattan. The most valuable land on Earth and we’re driving on it instead of building…

  3. BP says:

    I’m not a smoker, but I’m very much against a smoking ban in public spaces. I’m tired of King Michael telling his subjects what to do — term limits don’t apply to the King, the war on trans-fats, soda, vehicles in the city, etc. Enough is enough!

    The really ironic part of the smoking ban is that the entire “second hand smoke is bad” argument is based completely on a junk science report from the EPA in the late 90’s:

    Hey StormsNYC — can you point me towards one scientific study that actually proves ETS is bad for you?

    1. Ronald says:

      Dude, it’s smoke. Even dumb forest animals like deer and rabbits know to move away from smoke.

  4. StormsNYC says:

    in all seriousness, the question revolves around where teh line between personal freedom and respect for others lies. Taking the opposite position, could I go out to a park bench and urinate all over it? Its public space, I’m outside, so what’s the problem? The problem is that it is unhealthy and it adversely affects others (odor, the bench is now unclean, there are decency laws, etc.)

    The same argument can and has been made against smoking in public. There are PLENTY of studies that prove that second hand smoke is bad for you, so should I as a non-smoker (and a quitter no less, from a pack a day for 10 years to nothing for the past three) be confined to indoor spaces only for a select minority that wants to smoke in public spaces? I can’t say that the ‘personal freedom’ argument is that compelling to me, considering its a slippery slope when taken in the other direction as well.

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  6. Blasterific says:

    Martial Law!!! Just sign over your whole paycheck to the city as well.

  7. Kmd511 says:

    Take aim at smokers because they’re an easy target. That’s fine, pretty soon Bloomberg and his gestapo will be coming after you too fatty and you too blubbering drunk and you too in the tanning bed and you too drinking your soda.

  8. nathan says:

    The first cpl wks of this column were mostly about snakiness and whining. Then I suggested you look at the world around you and re-think your topics. Now we have landlords and Bloomberg. Thank you for listening.

  9. LM says:

    I don’t believe that smoking outdoors in public places should be banned, but I get REALLY irritated when smokers drop their cigarette butts on the ground and walk away when they’re done (or throw them out a car window). For some reason they wouldn’t dream of throwing thier other garbage on the ground, but they think it’s fine to drop cigarette butts on the ground. Pigs.

    1. Ronald says:

      Totally. People need to learn to field strip their cigarettes. Do they even still put ashtrays in cars anymore? They stopped with the lighters, now ‘electrical outlets’.

  10. PDoyle says:

    “You’re breathing in all the fumes from cars, trucks and busses. And, because you’re running, your lungs are taking more of it in than if you were simply walking! I can think of at least half a dozen people I knew in my life who never lifted a cigarette, but have died from cancer… Explain this to me…”
    Good point. I was thinking about the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights that is cantilevered over six lanes of virtually continuous heavy traffic. I was thinking about how ironic it would be to ban smoking there and yet allow everyone to breath all that exhaust and tainted water vapor.
    Second hand smoke outdoors is the least of the health problems we face.
    Maybe we should ban driving when the smog warnings go up.

  11. No Fuzzy Math!! says:

    I usually don’t do this, but I must speak up here. First of all, the probability of getting cancer from smoking is small. Yes, I said it. SMALL! One has to smoke for, say 20+ years – regularly, in order to significantly increase their chances of getting cancer statistically. I think you know where I am going with this in regards to second-hand smoke…you do the math.

    Secondly, I’m more concerned with the amount that we taxpayers front for the medicare bills for these chronic smokers. I’d rather tax the F&%! out of cigarettes to offset taxpayer costs than ban someone from smoking in public

    1. SM says:

      Arizona is actually trying to pass legislation to charge smokers more on health insurance policies. But I have since learned that smokers actually cost the health system less in the long run because they die younger. That is a statistical fact.

      1. Bill Mitts says:


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      3. Blasterific says:

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  12. Cos says:

    Finally, someone has said the facts – without letting fear and bigotry encroach on their opinion! For those who don’t smoke, more power to you… I have nothing against non-smokers. So why should non-smokers have something against me!? For those who live with the information that second-hand smoke increases the risk of cancer, I submit that studies have shown brocolli can cause cancer, butter can cause cancer, etc… Almost anything you ingest can cause cancer. Furthermore, if you think the 30 seconds of smoke you get from my cigarette is more dangerous than the hour or so you spend running in Central Park – think again… You’re breathing in all the fumes from cars, trucks and busses. And, because you’re running, your lungs are taking more of it in than if you were simply walking! I can think of at least half a dozen people I knew in my life who never lifted a cigarette, but have died from cancer… Explain this to me…

    1. Ronald says:

      We have something against you because of the smoke you’re producing. Non-smokers don’t give off toxic chemicals that you inhale. When I eat butter, I don’t make force you to eat a spoonful with me. It’s apples and oranges.
      The 30 seconds of your cig? No, won’t kill me. It’s the 30 minutes a day of dozens of smokers, compounded over 20 years. That’ll do it.

  13. APO says:

    At least allow the smoking of marijuana in public, most people could use a little, and it could calm down those with the incessant cell phone habits. Also, the Crucible with Daniel Day Lewis is an excellent film.

    1. AL says:

      The Crucible IS pretty great. And yeah, I’m with you on the marijuana in lieu of cell phone stance.

  14. AL says:

    as long as you don’t blow smoke in my face or flick ashes on me when you’re walking by, I don’t care what you’re smoking.

  15. Terry T says:

    I’m also not a smoker, but I really think that this smoking ban does start to encroach on people’s civil liberties. I mean, it is a PUBLIC park, and last time I checked, smokers were part of the public. Like you mentioned, there are a lot of annoying things out there, however, once you step into public property, everybody is taking their chances they’re going to run into something that doesn’t sit well with them. That’s just part of life. In wonder if the ban is being legally challenged by anybody?

    1. Ronald says:

      What specific ‘civil liberty’ is being encroached upon? There’s lots you can’t do in public parks. I can’t masterbate there, but I’m still part of the public. I can’t drink there, which is less harmful to those in my immediate vicinity. Just because it’s a ‘public’ space doesn’t mean there aren’t rules. In fact, there’s signs full of them, in every park in the city.

  16. SM says:

    While I can see your point, studies do show that second-hand smoke increases the risk of cancer in those who don’t smoke. And I wouldn’t object to a ban on loud talking on cell phones in public. But it seems the majority of voters don’t want this pubic smoking ban, so I guess I’m in the minority.

    1. Ronald says:

      Nah dude, you’re in the majority. The minority are just way more likely to comment on articles like this, because they feel personally persecuted. But nobodys holding protests at city hall. Nobody’s walking around going ‘You know what I wish we had more of here? Cigarette smoke, I miss that. And crime, I hate how crime has gone down.’ 🙂

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