Outdoor smoking ban plan angers some New Yorkers

Finding a place to smoke could get even harder in New York City.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to expand his ban on smoking in restaurants and bars to parks, beaches, boardwalks, pedestrian plazas and other outdoor public spaces.

Some smokers say it is another unwelcome case of government telling people how to behave.

Bloomberg has already banned trans fats in restaurants, and wants to bar the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps to fight obesity. In another step to encourage healthy living, he has moved to reduce salt in restaurant food.

Legal behaviour

"Smoking a cigarette is a legal behaviour. It's not the government's role to dictate or force anyone to not do it," said Audrey Silk, director of New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.

"Eventually they will ban smoking everywhere, even in people's homes," she said.

But while the 2003 ban on smoking in bars and restaurants generated howls of protests, the law has since become widely accepted. The city council is likely to approve a ban on smoking in public outdoor spaces, although a date for a vote has not been set.

Bloomberg, who took office in 2002, has also used the council's power to promote other health measures, including a ban on trans fats in restaurant food and a requirement chain restaurants display calorie counts on menus.

Ban purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps

He is campaigning nationally for food companies to cut salt levels in their products and for the federal government to ban the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps - federal vouchers used by 42 million low-income Americans to buy food.

In one of New York's parks, John Warren, a 30-year old financial consultant, said: "It's not (the city's) place to tell me to not smoke out here. This isn't a crowded bar. That I sort of understood."

But Sarah Cohen, 26, who lives in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and works in public relations, said she supported a smoking ban in public outdoor spaces.

"If I'm in a park, surrounded by trees, there shouldn't be smoke in my face. More importantly, kids shouldn't be exposed to cigarette smoke when they are anywhere, whether it's inside or outside. I'm totally in favour," she said.

Second-hand smoke

When Bloomberg announced plans for the ban last month, he said a person sitting within three feet of a smoker outside can be exposed to levels of second-hand smoke similar to those experienced indoors.

The mayor said research showed 65% of New Yorkers in favour of such a ban, and that if people do not obey the new law the city's Parks Department would issue a violation summons.

New York City councilwoman Gale Brewer is a sponsor of the bill to expand the smoking ban and said it was not a bid by the city to raise revenue through fines.

Infringement on public health

"Smoking infringes on public health," Brewer said.

"You can argue by saying you have the right to smoke on a beach or in a park. But a parent has the right to walk by with their child and not have to worry about the potential of an asthma attack," she said.

Several other places in the United States have already banned smoking in public outdoors spaces, including Belmont and Burbank in California and the state of Iowa.

"I think they are over-stepping with this," said Jim Gugliemo, 37, a construction worker and long-time smoker. "I don't think I'm doing anybody any harm by sitting in a park and having a cigarette." (Reuters Health/ October 2010)

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