2011-02-25 / Top Stories

Mayor Bloomberg Signs Beach, Boardwalk Smoking Ban

By Howard Schwach

On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the bill banning smoking on beaches and in parks and public plazas.

The signing came after a long drive on the part of the mayor and his health commissioner to expand the public spaces smoking ban that has been in effect for several years.

On signing, Bloomberg said, “New York City passed its first Smoke Free Air Act in 1988. Since then, it has been amended three times, most notably in 2002, when smoking in indoor areas – including restaurants and bars – was banned. In addition to banning smoking at restaurants, bars, movie theatres, playgrounds, and outside of hospital entrances, the City has also taken aggressive steps to increase the taxes on cigarettes and prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products. The Department of Health has also launched annual smoking cessation programs, which distribute free nicotine patches to those who are interested in kicking their habit.

“Because of our combined efforts over the last nine years, there are 350,000 fewer people who smoke and New Yorkers are living nineteen months longer than they did in 2002. But there is still work to be done. There are still 950,000 adult smokers in New York City and 18,000 teenage smokers and a vast majority of us are exposed to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on a daily basis.

“Smoking in parks and beaches not only harms people trying to enjoy these recreational facilities, it also causes a litter problem that harms the beauty of our parks. Cigarette litter is difficult and expensive to clean up and is a hazard to children, pets, and the environment.

Cigarette-related litter accounts for 75 percent of all litter on beaches and 33 percent of all litter in parks.”

Both of the peninsula’s two City Council members, Eric A. Ulrich and James Sanders Jr., voted against the bill, only two of 12 who defied the mayor on the vote.

The bill, which was approved by a 36-to-12 margin in the Council, now becomes law 90 days after Mayor Bloomberg signed, in mid-May, just in time for the summer beach season.

The law will fine people $50 for smoking in public parks, beaches, pools, boardwalks, playgrounds and recreation centers, as well as the newly formed pedestrian plazas like the ones in Union Square and Times Square in Manhattan.

While I understand the health concerns that prompted the introduction of this bill, it is nothing more than another example of government intruding into the private lives of New Yorkers.

The city should be less concerned about correcting people’s bad habits and more focused on solving real problems facing the city,” Ulrich argued. “Whether we like it or not, smokers pay taxes and they have rights too. We need to be mindful of the fact that we’re infringing on the rights and freedoms of everyday residents who are not breaking the law.”

According to Ulrich, he and Councilmember Rosie Mendez of Manhattan had proposed an alternate bill that would have set aside designated non-smoking areas on properties included in the bill.

James Sanders Jr. voted against the bill as well, but couldn’t be reached directly for comment. A spokesperson for his office said Sanders was also in favor of smoking and non-smoking sections of beaches and parks.

Both council members from Staten Island, Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo, whose districts also include public beach areas, voted against the ban.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe added, “By supporting this legislation, we welcome the chance to improve the beauty and health benefits of the city’s public outdoor spaces. Tens of millions of visitors — New Yorkers and visitors alike — enjoy our public parks year round, and we hope this new legislation ensures an even healthier and cleaner experience at our parks and beaches.”

The ban will cover 1,400 parks and 14 miles of beaches citywide. The law will not be enforced by the NYPD but rather by Parks Enforcement Patrol officers.

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