NY to ban smoking in Times Square, parks, beaches

Sunday 19 September 2010 00:00 BST

Lighting up in Times Square, Central Park and on the beach at Coney Island will become illegal under a new smoking ban announced Wednesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"The science is clear: prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke - whether you're indoors or out - hurts your health. Today, we're doing something about it," Bloomberg said.

The bill must pass in the City Council, where Bloomberg has strong support.

"When this legislation is passed, all New Yorkers will be able to enjoy a walk in the park or a day at the beach without having to inhale secondhand smoke," council speaker Christine Quinn said.

"This bill will save lives and make New York City a healthier place to live," she added.

New York City has 14 miles (some 22 kilometers) of beaches and more than 1,700 parks, like the famous Central Park, and playgrounds.

Bloomberg, a passionate anti-smoking former smoker, braved heated opposition in 2003 to push through a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

The new ban would seek to eradicate smoking in popular tourist spots including pedestrian plazas such as Times Square where another Bloomberg initiative banned cars.

Violators would face fines of up to 250 dollars.

Smokers in the city, who already have to pay between 11 and 15 dollars for a packet of cigarettes, fumed.

"It's all based on an ideology of 'thou shall not smoke,'" said Audrey Silk, founder of the smokers' rights group NYC C.L.A.S.H.

"There's no scientific evidence that smoking outdoors is harming anyone else," she told AFP.

"They will have us suspend common and logical sense that tobacco smoke is a unique substance and that for everything else - we're talking exhaust fumes - there are safe levels."

A former police officer, Silk said it was impossible to chase down people sneaking a puff in places like Times Square.

"Can you imagine pulling cops off the street, instead of looking for terrorists?"

However, city council member Gale Brewer said the smoking curbs not only targeted a deadly addiction, but would make New York more pleasant.

"New York is the national leader in creating healthy cities, and promoting a healthy life style," Brewer said.

"That's why we're pushing to get butts off the beaches. And it's not just a health issue, as any beachgoer knows: despite the clean-up efforts of the Parks Department, the sand is too often used as an ashtray."

Some 7,500 New Yorkers die from smoking-related problems a year, City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

One in three preventable deaths is related to smoking, while secondhand smoke causes more cancer deaths than asbestos, benzene, arsenic, and pesticides combined, the city says.

The indoors smoking ban "greatly reduced the harm that cigarettes cause to nonsmokers," Farely said. "By expanding the act to cover parks and beaches, we can reduce the toll even further."

Bloomberg, narrowly elected last year to a third term after changing the rules that would have limited him to two terms, is praised by supporters for raising quality of life in the biggest US city.

Detractors, though, call him a control freak.

"No smoking, soon no laughing, no drinking, and eventually no talking," one reader going by the Internet name BELLEduSoup complained on New York magazine's website.

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