Continued from page 1

The city has also tried to snuff out smoking by raising taxes on cigarettes, helping the price of a pack soar to $11 or more; through a public education campaign that has featured grisly images of diseased lungs; and by offering free nicotine patch kits for smokers to help them quit.

The Health Department argues that its tobacco-control strategy saved an estimated 6,300 lives between 2002 and 2009, mostly from a reduction in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. The smoking rate dropped 27 percent during the same period.

But the department says smoking continues to be the city’s leading cause of preventable death. A city study published in 2009 found that residents are exposed to more secondhand smoke than the national average, he said.

The hazards of secondhand smoke are well-documented. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of exposure. But how secondhand smoke contributes to environmental hazards outdoors is an emerging area of study.

Dr. Michael Siegel, an expert on the public health effects of smoking who testified in support of the city’s indoor smoking ban, said science may not support the idea of smoke-free beaches and parks.

“I disagree that there is a scientific basis for banning smoking in wide open outdoor spaces where people can easily avoid exposure,” said Siegel, who works in Boston, where the City Council is proposing a similar ban. “Some of the health groups have been exaggerating the evidence.”

In one of the few published studies on outdoor tobacco smoke, scientists at Stanford University said in a 2007 paper that smoking outdoors might be considered a “hazard” or “nuisance,” including when “eating dinner with a smoker at a sidewalk cafe, sitting next to a smoker on a park bench, or standing near a smoker outside a building.”

“If one is upwind from a smoker, levels most likely will be negligible,” the authors wrote.

With such strict bans, the tobacco-control movement may be in danger of losing its credibility, Siegel said.

“The public is going to just think of us as these zealots who want to ban smoking everywhere,” he said. “It’s going to make it even harder to pass legitimate smoking regulations in states that don’t currently have them.”

The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation counted more than 450 municipalities with policies of smoke-free parks and more than 200 with smokeless beaches, including Los Angeles.

And there are signs that anti-smoking ordinances could get tougher in the future, with some communities extending bans into private homes, especially apartment buildings where secondhand smoke can permeate into other units.

In New York City, especially during the summer, places like Times Square and Central Park get packed with humanity, making exposure to secondhand smoke a distinct possibility.

On a recent winter day in Bryant Park, in midtown Manhattan, a few hardy souls braving the cold gave the ban a mixed review.

Katie Geba, 19, said a smoke-free park would be a blessing.

Story Continues →