July 7, 2010 -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering one of the widest smoking bans ever, extending the prohibition to the great outdoors.
Already illegal in New York City restaurants and bars, smoking would be verboten in city parks and beaches if the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has its way.
The proposal is aimed at cleaning up the city's cigarette butt-strewn outdoor spaces and clearing secondhand smoke in the wake of findings that non-smoking New Yorkers have the nation's highest level of a tobacco byproduct in their blood, advocates said.
"When you ask people in our parks and beaches," Bloomberg said at a news conference, "they say they just don't want smokers there."
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has suggested updating the ban to Mayor Bloomberg because of the negative effects smoking has on New Yorkers' health. Jessica Scaperotti, a deputy press secretary for the mayor's office, said Bloomberg is waiting for additional information before making a decision, but noted that "it is something he's leaning towards."
Other places have enacted similar ordinances. Earlier this year, Los Angeles banned smoking within 10 feet of outdoor dining areas. The city of Calabasas, Calif., has passed an ordinance that prohibits lighting up anywhere in the city where another person is within 25 feet of the smoker. Nearly 400 colleges have banned smoking on their campuses, and the Navy has banned it on submarines.
Reducing secondhand smoke is a large motivator for extending the New York City ban. "Non-smoking New York City residents tend to have more cotinine, which is a byproduct of tobacco, in their blood than nonsmokers in other parts of the country," Scaperotti said.
Susan Craig, press secretary for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said there were additional motivating factors for extending the ban.
"It's modeling behavior for children when they see adults smoking," Craig said.
"Also, it contributes to the litter," Craig said. "People treat beaches like ashtrays."
Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner, echoed that statement and said that such a ban could save the city millions of dollars in garbage cleanup costs.
New York City Smoking Ban May Cover Great Outdoors
Still, the potential health benefits that could come from further banning smoking and therefore reducing exposure to secondhand smoke are the most important.
"Smoking kills 7,500 New Yorkers every year," Craig said. She noted that smoking and related illnesses make up the leading preventable cause of death for New Yorkers.
Earlier this spring, the California state legislature passed a law that would have banned smoking in state parks and beaches, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.
Audrey Silk, founder of a smokers' rights group called New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoking Harassment, described the proposal as "laughable."
"Evidence of exposure is not equivalent to harm," she said. "There is absolutely no evidence that a whiff of smoke outdoors is going to harm anyone."
Silk said proposals like this one go beyond protecting citizens' health.
"This is all about the incremental steps…to eliminate smoking without criminalizing tobacco." Silk said.
Craig said she thought the proposal might encounter opposition at first, but it would eventually become the norm.
"People were concerned about not smoking in bars and restaurants and now its been widely accepted," Craig said. "Most New Yorkers welcome it."