In the wake of the recent ban on smoking in parks, beaches, marinas, pedestrian islands and other public areas, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, chair of the State Assembly’s committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse and member of the Health Committee, issued the following op-ed.

NYC’s Newest Smoking Ban Could be More Dangerous Than Smoking or Secondhand Smoke

Could New York City’s recently enacted ban on smoking in parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas be more dangerous than smoking or secondhand smoke?  There is no question that cigarette smoking is dangerous to the health of the smoker and those around him or her.  As a health issue this new legislation makes sense, but is it setting a dangerous precedent?

Our great nation was created on a foundation of freedoms.  Nothing in the Bill of Rights guarantees a smoker’s right to light up, but how far can, or should, government’s restrictions go before it is infringing on the rights our founding fathers were willing to die for?  I am a former smoker, happy to declare being smoke-free for over twenty years, and agree with so many of my neighbors that not only is the smell of cigarette smoke distasteful, but a serious health risk.  As a member of the Assembly’s Health Committee, I have worked hard to bring about legislation that will protect and improve the health of all New Yorkers.  While neither our federal or state constitutions explicitly guarantee our right to good health, I do believe that this right is implicitly provided by these documents.

Over the past few years we have enacted laws preventing smoking in many public places including the subway and buses, public buildings, restaurants and bars.  All these prohibitions were necessary to safeguard the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke.  The enclosed environment of being indoors makes it impossible for one to avoid the smoke of a lit cigarette. The Council’s latest smoking ban targets smokers out of doors where, in most instances, non-smokers have the ability to avoid the secondhand smoke.  I realize that a smoker suddenly lighting up on the beach blanket next to yours can be annoying, but the City Council and Mayor’s new law is not a solution that will clear the air and could result in more serious problems.

My major concern with the new law is that it is another instance of government intruding into our lives.  As a legislator, I realize the importance of laws in maintaining order, safety and a high quality of life in our society.  However, we must be very careful not to over legislate.

A second and more direct concern I have with the City’s latest smoking ban is that published reports indicate Parks Enforcement Officers and Police will not be enforcing its provisions.  This means that you and I now have the law backing us if we want to inform a park, beach or public plaza smoker of their infraction and ask them to stop.  Citizen enforcement of this new law could prove to be more dangerous to the health and safety of New Yorkers than allowing smoking in these now restricted areas.  Fights are almost certain to be the result.

Having stated the problems I foresee with New York City’s most recent anti-smoking action, let me reiterate that smoking is a health risk to both the person puffing and the people around him or her.  The public must be protected, but in a rational way.  Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. has suggested setting designated smoking areas on beaches and in parks.  This would keep the majority of New Yorkers’ lungs free of secondhand smoke without being overly restrictive to smokers.  This idea would also reduce the likelihood of the scuffles that would result from non-smokers attempting to enforce the law.

Convincing, and assisting, smokers to quit are important functions of government.   We have already provided those of us who don’t smoke with numerous protections from inhaling secondhand smoke.  Now we need to use education and other strategies to further convince smokers to snuff out their cigarettes permanently.  However, attempting to legislate a solution to smoking could be harmful to the rights of both smokers and non-smokers.

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  • RS

    Completely agree with Mr. Cymbrowitz. This will become a citizen’s arrest scenario, where few “superheroes” will try to protect the citizens by starting fights or whatnot with people that are smoking….I can’t see this ending well…….

    • Anonymous

      so.. you are implying that most people dont give a shit about second hand smoke? Few Superheroes? How about person who is smoking will now think twice before lighting up on the beach, now that he knows that people around him will start to bitch about it.There might be just more than a few superheroes.
      I’v seen people smoke on kids playgrounds … is this normal? Smoking around kids who run around and take in full lungs of smoke… Is this normal? If it is .. than you my dear smokers need to get your heads checked out.

      • Local Broker

        You are right the only place it should not be allowed is in playgrounds where kids play and adults shouldnt be anyway.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          Unless the adults are supervising parents.

          • Local Broker

            Duh

      • Anonymous

        There is a better alternative and the Assemblyman mentioned it. Set up separate areas for smoking. What’s wrong with that? If you just want to stop it period. then outlaw smoking altogether. But the City would never do that because they still want the cigarette tax revenue.

      • http://ericasphotos.tumblr.com/ ES

        The guest op-ed clearly states: “Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. has suggested setting designated smoking areas on beaches and in parks. This would keep the majority of New Yorkers’ lungs free of secondhand smoke without being overly restrictive to smokers. This idea would also reduce the likelihood of the scuffles that would result from non-smokers attempting to enforce the law.”

        That is the alternative idea, and it is a good one, I think.

        • http://poop-slope.blogspot.com/ Winston Smith

          I have summered in Ocean City NJ. Nobody smokes on the beach and there are a few designated places on the boardwalk where tobacco addicts and get their fix. It works well there.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the assemblyman 100%.

  • Local Broker

    Wow this guy is onto something.

  • Brightonresident

    Well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Whwsailboat

    Sorry Assemblyman, you can’t have it both ways. Your reasoned argument against smoking or inhaling second hand smoke is correct. But remember, all citizens suffer the cost to society when smoking is allowed regardless of the location. There is no logical, rational limit,(or line in the sand), to artificially keep smokers at bay. Smoking in the privacy of your home does not prevent you from developing cancer, emphysema or expensive visits to emergency rooms and hospitals that drive all our health costs higher. Pandering to Tea Party mentality under the guise of excessive regulation is bogus. Supporting the banning of tobacco completely or refusing to provide government funding for smoking related health issues would make more sense. Otherwise, smoke at will! Personally, what is great about smoking is knowing how you will die.

  • ALRHA

    Would it also be ok to allow restaurants who fail dept of health inspections to simply operate in a designated area? smoking is dangerous, period. the govt has a right to protect the public. my kids go to the park to enjoy the fresh air, not to inhale someone else’s smoke. i dont even understand why smoking a cigarette is any more legal than smoking drugs.

    • Allanb

      Did you know water is deadly? people suffocate from water inhalation all over the world, especially in our oceans!!!! we should ban going to the beach because of it, and stop people from drinking it and using it to clean themselves with it because it can potentially kill someone!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Steve Cymbrowitz! It’s about time someone stated what should be known. There’s been way too much meddling in our lives by over eager government. Kingberg is the biggest offender. The one thing they’re afraid to do is make cigarettes illegal. We know the history of that kind of legislation. So they keep whittling away the rights of smokers to use a legal product.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    A lot of the arguments against smoking in public come down to people’s personal feelings about smoking. They are breathing in automobile exhaust fumes which is thicker than cigarette smoke and more constant. The occasional short term exposure to tobacco smoke is a small health risk in comparison. Since the majority of us find automobiles useful this source of carcinogenic exposure is tolerated. But let’s feel better by diverting that reality to a source that some folks can feel better about blaming for environmental damage. Thusly,the tiny cigarette is to blame for all of society’s woes.

    Prohibitionists just never give up. They’re always looking for substitutes for the real issues.

    • RS

      Thank you Lisanne for posting this! I cannot agree more….People love to blame everyone and everything else for their own problem…”ooh i spilled hot coffee on myself and got burned because I’m an idiot..let’s blame McDonald’s”….I’ve gotten so much flak on this and other forums for saying that there is air circulation OUTSIDE…if someone does not like second-hand smoke, DON’T STAND NEXT TO A SMOKING PERSON…smokers do not run up to people and blow smoke on them on purpose….

      • http://twitter.com/Lostinservice Lostinservice

        I agree with Lisanne entirely but just want to give you some backstory on the McDonald’s coffee issue since its almost always inappropriately cited as a failure of the justice system. MacDonalds was actually serving coffee much hotter than normal to prevent people from returning too quickly for free refills. The woman opened her coffee between her legs while driving to allow it to cool and spilled it on her crotch and legs. At 185deg F, and absorbed into fabric kept at close contact, 3rd degree burns occur within 2-7 seconds and required skin grafts. Macdonalds dismissed her request to cover only medical bills so she sued. Macdonalds was found liable due to willful and malicious negligence because their operating practice was to serve coffee at an unsafe temperature. While the immediate thought is “it’s coffee, its meant to be hot” you must realize that it is drank at about 165F not at 212F or even 185F and by serving coffee at a higher temperature you prevent the customer from drinking it immediately. It was willful negligence because they served a product meant to be consumed at time of sale at a temperature that prevented it without any indication or warning, hence the liability.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          This is basically true. The trial was most interesting, evidence was entered that pointed out that 185ºF was an industry standard. That’s rather absurd, the ability to taste is adversely affected by heat. They lost the case because they showed flagrant disregard for the well-being of their customers.

          Nevertheless, the woman who sued, while exercising other safety precautions, placed the coffee cup between her knees temporarily. Not a smart move, but only slightly mitigating.

          The downside of this verdict is that led to an increase in liability lawsuits, many of them with no legal basis at all. Poor Stella Liebeck had no idea what she unleashed.

          • http://twitter.com/Lostinservice Lostinservice

            Well she didn’t unleash anything. Had Macdonald’s honored her request to cover medical bills it would never had gone to trial and no precedent set.

            Plus during the trial “A McDonald’s quality assurance manager testified in the case that the Corporation was aware of the risk of serving dangerously hot coffee and had no plans to either turn down the heat or to post warning about the possibility of severe burns, even though most customers wouldn’t think it was possible.”

            They knew their operating practice was negligent, didn’t take responsibility outside of court, forced her to go to court, and admitted it in court. They set the precedent.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

            I didn’t mean as a direct consequence. However, the case got so much publicity that it encourage others, often with less cause, to take their claims into court.

            The point is that her lawsuit was a matter of necessity, the cost of her medical care warranted it. Other cases have been based less upon actual loss.

          • Backagain

            i assume that McDonalds subsequently will get sued for coffee that’s too cold@!

    • Local Broker

      Thats what im talking about.

    • Animo916

      Bloomturd’s own reports and studies show that the biggest contributor to air pollution in the city are the buildings. Time to outlaw buildings I guess?

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        And we can start by demolishing buildings owned by companies he has an financial interest in.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        And we can start by demolishing buildings owned by companies he has an financial interest in.

    • nolastname

      And gas is how much a gallon now?

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        Still less than a pack of cigarettes here.

        I bitched when the price of cigarettes went up to 50 cents.

  • http://poop-slope.blogspot.com/ Winston Smith

    “Freedom to smoke”. That is BS. Freedom to exploit tobacco addiction.

    This is about profit and greed, not “freedom”

    • Anonymous

      Hmmm. I can’t resist thinking of an old advertisement. “Winston Tastes Good! Like a cigarette should!”

  • J.P. Zenger

    I am an anti smoker. At the same time I have a terrible time with laws that are enacted that the government has not intention or ability to enforce. Kill the law. I just teaches us to have no respect for the law. Just like watching police drift through red lights. They teach us not to respect Police.

    • http://poop-slope.blogspot.com/ Winston Smith

      They said the same thing about the seat belt law.

  • Backagain

    thank you Mr. Cymbrowitz. Such concerns should also be addressed in other area. Thanks, Mr. C, for having the guts to speak out like this. We can only hope that you don’t get cited by the forces of the politically correct for “hate speech”.