2010-10-22 / Front Page

Smoking Ban Talks Heat Up

By Howard Schwach
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban smoking in city parks,

including the beaches on the Rockaway peninsula, has sparked controversy within the City Council, which must pass the ban.

The Council had its first hearing on the proposed ban last week.

Neither of Rockaway’s two councilmen spoke at the hearing, but others did.

Councilmember Dan Halloran, who represents Whitestone in northern Queens, blasted the City on the proposed law.

“The City has found yet another way to hassle New Yorkers who engage in perfectly legal behavior,” Halloran said. “Smokers pay taxes,” Halloran said. “They’re not second class citizens. They ought to be free to do as they wish without our huge city government hassling them everywhere they go – on beaches, in parks, on playgrounds. This infringes on the rights of law-abiding people to enjoy a legal activity in a public place, and that’s just wrong.”

Halloran pointed out the skewed statistics presented by the Parks Department on the impact of smoking litter in city parks. The City claimed 75 percent of the litter in parks was from cigarettes, but defined the percentages by individual pieces of litter, not by volume. By volume, the refuse generated by smokers is less than 1 percent of the litter in parks.

He also pointed to the flaws in the health studies, as none actually place outdoor secondhand cigarette smoke exposure as a significant threat, in a city where ambient pollution from automobiles, factories, and heating systems is a far more devastating and persistent health risk. The City admitted it had actually done no scientific studies to support its position that eliminating outdoor cigarette smoke would have any health benefits.

“I oppose this legislation because it’s a slippery slope,” said Halloran. “Are we going to be back here in five years talking about a ban on smoking on the sidewalks and streets of New York? Perhaps in automobiles and in households that have children in them? What’s the line in the sand? At what point do we just let people live their lives?”

“[The Mayor] won’t stop until we regulate every aspect of people’s lives,” Halloran added. “Salt content, trans-fats, soda, cigarettes. The City is out to police and criminalize health choices. This is not the way a free country operates. This is not liberty.”

At the hearing, Councilman Peter Vallone recommended a compromise, one that would create smoking areas on beaches and in city parks.

His recommendation would set aside 20 percent of the parkland for those who want to smoke, allocating the other 80 percent for those who don’t.

Councilman Eric Ulrich has his own ideas about the ban.

“While I understand the health concerns that prompted the introduction of this bill, a complete ban on smoking in public places is nothing more than another infringement upon the individual rights of law-abiding New Yorkers,” Ulrich said. “The city should be less concerned with correcting people’s bad habits and more focused on solving real problems facing the city, including unemployment, crime and education. Whether we like it or not, smokers pay taxes and they have rights, too.”

Ulrich added that while the Vallone compromise bill has gained attention, people should be aware that Ulrich and Rosie Mendez are proposing a different alternate bill that would establish smoke free zones in public areas, where non-smokers can be separated from second-hand smoke. Because smokefree zones must not be so large as to infringe on civil liberties, this legislation would authorize Parks to designate up to one-eighth of any park or other property under Park’s jurisdiction as a smoke free zone.

These zones would be prominently indentified, and fines would range from $50 to $250. In larger parks, smoke free zones would be designated in multiple, accessible areas. This legislation would also authorize the DOT to designate up to 1/8 of pedestrian plazas as smoke-free zones, with the same violations.

In proposing his smoking ban in parks and on beaches, Bloomberg said that he would rely on other residents to enforce the law. He told reporters that he hoped that those offended by people breaking the ban would call 311 to report their fellow New Yorkers.

First, the mayor said, people should go over to those smoking and say, “Would you mind putting out that cigarette?” If that doesn’t work, the mayor said, a call to 311 is appropriate.

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