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.