Health advocates and smokers' rights activists spoke out about a bill to ban smoking in outdoor locations like public parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas in New York City.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilwoman Gail Brewer of the Upper West Side are among the bill’s sponsors. The ban aims to reduce the effects of secondhand smoke on New Yorkers and to reduce cigarette-related litter.
“Our public parks and plazas are one of the few places in the city where we can still go to enjoy fresh air,” Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said.
Some council members hope the ban will decrease smoking rates as well as prevent younger generations from ever adopting the habit.
“It's about making sure that youth and children do not see bad role models, people smoking in parks and they do not have to deal with the bad effects of cigarette smoke,” Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm said.
But smokers’ right activists and other opponents of the bill say the ban would infringe on their rights, especially when they pay taxes that support the city’s parks and other public spaces.
“It's a tool to make it so difficult to light up, that people will quit in frustration. That is none of the government's business when we're talking about a legal behavior,” said Audrey Silk, a former New York City police officer who lives in Brooklyn.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. has proposed a compromise on the ban. Under his plan, there would be separate smoking sections in parks that are larger than two acres, and smoking would still be allowed in pedestrian plazas.
But Scott Santarella, who runs the American Lung Association in New York, says no compromise is necessary.
“We're not taking away the right for someone to smoke; we're actually asking them to be conscious of not smoking around others, that impacts them from a health perspective. They can still smoke in their car, in their home, we're just asking them not to smoke in public places,” he said.
Other cities like San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque are among the 470 municipalities that currently have smoking bans in parks, and several cities across the country also prohibit smoking on beaches.
The Council's Health Committee will likely vote on the proposal later this month.