NYC Smoking Ban in Parks, Beaches Goes Into Effect

VIDEO: NYC further limits the areas where smokers can light up.
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For a city that seems to thrive on excess, there is one area where New York is coming up short: ashtrays.

As of today, all public parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas will be smoke-free, enforced by a $50 fine.

With bars and restaurants already giving them the brush, places like Central Park, Times Square plaza and Coney Island's boardwalk will join the list of places that no longer welcome smokers to sit back and light up.

Following the lead of Los Angeles and Chicago, New York City is now the largest metropolitan area to attempt to cut down on the amount of second-hand smoke by enacting smoke-free laws for open areas.

It is the latest victory for advocates of smoke-free environments as more local and state governments explore the possibility of expanding their antismoking legislation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 states have smoking bans for worksites, restaurants and bars and an additional five states ban smoking in at least two of those areas. The remaining states are dotted with local and municipal laws prohibiting people from lighting up at work, near hospitals, or at bars and restaurants.

As a whole, most of the states with the strictest laws are north of the Mason-Dixon line, along with the Southwest. Perhaps not surprisingly, the largest numbers of smokers live in areas where the laws are not as stringent on smoking.

Based on data from the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Lung Association monitors each state's legislative efforts to determine whether it's making the grade in nonsmoking initiatives.

Across the country, including Puerto Rico, the ALA has awarded 24 states and the District of Columbia the highest marks, while more than 25 percent of the country is considered below average in promoting and regulating smoke-free surroundings. The grading system was started in 2002, after Delaware passed a statewide smoking ban that preceded a groundswell of other states following suit.

"We know that decision-makers do not want to say that they are failing the health of their constituents," New York Chapter of the American Lung Association spokesman Michael Seilback said.

In 1995, California broke ground as the first to issue a statewide ban. Since then, the effort to snuff out smoking in public places has spread to areas where it might have at first seemed unlikely.

"States like Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi are all passing laws at the local level," said Cynthia Hallett, executive director for the advocacy group, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Her organization has been pushing nonsmoking legislation since the 1970s, born from the early efforts in California.

But despite an increase in the number of bans across the country, like those in New York City, cigarette makers are reluctant to say whether it has an impact on the actual number of smokers.

"It's difficult to tell whether this has a significant impact on sales," said a spokesperson for Philip Morris USA, makers of Marlboro, Basic and Virginia Slim cigarettes. "There are so many factors that have contributed to the decline (of cigarette sales) such as excise taxes, people smoking less…"

According to the company, cigarette sales have steadily declined over the past decade, dropping as much as 5 percent over the most recent years.

While additional bans are not likely to help slumping sales, one tobacco company denies it is trying to stop the new laws.

"We don't have boots on the ground, so to speak, fighting against these smoking bans," R.J. Reynolds Tobacco spokesman John Singleton said. "There are grassroots organizations that are taking up this issue, but we're not putting energy into it."

But with active groups like Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, cigarette makers may not need to get involved. The organization is protesting New York City's outdoor ban by staging a "smoke-in" at one of the city's public beaches.

The group's founder refused to talk about the event or make a statement, but according to the group's website, the day will include "the time honored tradition and civic duty of civilly disobeying unjust laws."

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