Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
It's been a slow, steady and — by most accounts — effective campaign to get smokers in New York to take their habit outside. More than seven years ago the city became a national leader in efforts to curb indoor smoking when it enacted a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and members of the City Council want to go even further by banning some outdoor smoking as well.
A bill to be introduced in the council tomorrow would prohibit smoking in all 1,700 city parks, 14 miles of city beaches, public marinas and even pedestrian plazas, like the one in Times Square.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn says not all of Times Square would be off limits to smokers. People would still be able to smoke on sidewalks.
"But you can't sit in one of those little tables, right next to me, in another little table, and smoke and therefore I have to ingest your second-hand smoke," Quinn says. "That you can't do."
Once the bill is introduced, public hearings would be held on the proposed new law. According to the Bloomberg administration, Chicago and Los Angeles already ban smoking at parks and beaches. Bloomberg, who has made banning smoking a major policy issue, says being three feet from a smoker is hazardous to your health, whether indoors or outdoors. The bill is supposed to protect against second-hand smoke.
"In passing it, we think it would help ensure that when New Yorkers and visitors to our city go to the parks and beaches for fresh air, there will actually be fresh air for them to breathe, and also that our parks and beaches won't be littered, as they are now, all too often," Bloomberg says.
According to the city, cigarette butts account for 75 percent of litter on city beaches and can take more than 18 months to decompose.
The smokers' rights group Citizens Freedom Alliance questions the science behind second-hand smoke dangers and says the ban would be taking away the rights and freedoms of New Yorkers.
City Council members defend the measure and say it's not meant to be punitive or generate revenue. Public workers with the authority to write summonses would enforce the law, but city lawmakers believe regular citizens could help too.
So far public reaction is mixed, with some people suggesting there should be a smoking section in parks and beaches, instead of an all out ban.
Junior Thomas, who was smoking in Riverside Park, says he hates that he smokes, but he'd rather quit on his own than have it forced on him. He called the ban "trotting on people's civil liberties."
Merle Chitan, who was also at the park, welcomes the ban. She's a nanny who suffers from smoke allergies. "You want to enjoy yourself when you're sitting in the park and the smoke is coming in your face, so I think it's a great idea what they want to do. "
Councilwoman Gail Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan, will introduce the bill Thursday. It's unclear which council members support the legislation.