- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

People in Times Square have had to worry about jihad bomb plots, the surge of a million New Year’s Eve revelers and, potentially, the latest Broadway stinker.

At least now they won’t have to worry about secondhand smoke.

The New York City Council on Wednesday passed, by a 36-12 vote, a ban on smoking in public places such as beaches, parks and public squares. It takes effect in 90 days.

At an hourlong hearing, New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said she hoped the measure would serve as an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world on saving people’s lives from secondhand smoke.

Passing it “would make New York City the third city to ban smoking in public parks and public beaches,” she said, adding that “57 percent of New York nonsmokers have a chemical in their body that indicates that they have been exposed to secondhand smoke.”

However, council members opposed to the bill denounced it as too intrusive and symptomatic of a busybody attitude on the part of city officials.

“I truly believe that that government is being too intrusive into the daily lives of New Yorkers,” said council member Robert Jackson, who identified himself as a nonsmoker. “I truly believe that the government is being too restrictive in this matter.”

Council member Daniel J. Halloren said “it is not the business of the government ever to coerce behavior from us” and added that the bill violated the public’s trust and vindicated “slippery slope” claims about such “nanny state” legislation.

He noted that in 2002, when a law took effect to ban smoking in indoor public facilities, city officials “promised that they would not fall onto the slippery slope” by introducing further legislation on this matter.

However, council member James F. Gennaro said a public ban is exactly what is needed to complement earlier laws and private initiatives on making workplaces smoke-free.

“The message that this action sends is that smoking is aberrant behavior,” Mr. Gennaro said. “This is not normal behavior, this is killer behavior; we have to do everything we can to demoralize this activity.”

Council member Ydanis Rodriquez noted that parks and beaches are used primarily by families and said council members needed to make them safe.

“Our public park and plazas are the few places we can still go for fresh air,” she said.

According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke causes about 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and can worsen conditions such as respiratory infections and asthma.

Several counties and municipalities in California, New Jersey and elsewhere have installed regulations similar to New York’s within the past few years. For example, Morris County, N.J., adopted a law in July that prohibits smoking in all public parks and recreational areas and in the adjacent parking lots and sidewalks.

Under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York has been a pioneer in public-health and safety laws widely derided as nanny-state legislation, some examples of which have since become the new normal.

In 2002, New York banned smoking in bars and restaurants. The city has since imposed a ban on the use of transfats in restaurants and has required chain restaurants to post calorie counts prominently on their menus.

In 2009, Mr. Bloomberg announced the city’s Take Care New York 2012 initiative, which the city hopes by that date will, among other things, “lower the proportion of adults who drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverages each day by 20 percent.” In 2010, the city launched a voluntary initiative on processed food and restaurant meals aimed at cutting the amount of salt in those goods by 25 percent.

A somewhat unusual view came from Councilman Lewis Fidler, who has voted in favor of the smoking ban on smoking in bars but said a public ban on a legal product goes too far.

“I think Congress would be justified in making tobacco a controlled substance,” he said. “But smoking is, for better or worse, a legal activity. I can’t support this.”

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