Yesterday Councilmember Peter Vallone offered an alternative to Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban smoking in all city parks, pedestrian plazas, beaches and boardwalks. Vallone's compromise bill would stop short of a full ban, and create smoking sections in parks larger than two acres. He would also allow smoking in the city's new pedestrian plazas. But City Room reports that Vallone's bill "appeared to gain little traction" at the "occasionally raucous" hearing. And today Mayor Bloomberg expressed no interest in compromise.
"I think the zones don’t work," Bloomberg told reporters. "It would cost a lot to enforce. The bottom line is this is one of those programs that came from the public, rather than from the government’s side. [People] don’t like someone sitting on a blanket up wind of them smoking on a beach or in a park. They keep complaining and complaining and complaining. People complain on the beaches about the cigarette butts and the packs, the same at the parks." (Oh these people and their complaining—it's enough to make you want to give up and run for president!) Also during yesterday's hearing, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley reminded the council that "secondhand smoke is deadly and causes premature death in children and adults. It contains more than 250 toxic and carcinogenic chemicals including carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, benzene and arsenic."
Councilmember Robert Jackson, a Manhattan Democrat, reportedly got in "a series of heated exchanges," and accused the city of being "too restrictive." And Councilmember Daniel Halloran, a Queens Republican, also came out against both bills, calling the smoking ban a “slippery slope” toward an overbearing government. "Are we going to be back here in five years talking about a ban on smoking in households that have children in them?" he asked. "What’s the line in the sand?" And NY1 reports that a small group of protesters rallied outside, where smoking ban opponent Audrey Silk told reporters, "There is no valid evidence that secondhand smoke is harming anyone. Is it an annoyance? Probably to some people, I'm sure it is an annoyance. But where do we draw the line on legislating against annoyances."
But Scott Santarella, who runs the American Lung Association in New York, also pushed back against the compromise, and thinks smokers should just relax and look on the bright side. He tells WNYC, "We're not taking away the right for someone to smoke; we're actually asking them to be conscious of not smoking around others, that impacts them from a health perspective. They can still smoke in their car, in their home, we're just asking them not to smoke in public places." So buck up smokers, you'll always have your car and your home, right?