By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Lighting up while lounging in Central Park or Times Square is about to get a lot more expensive after the City Council passed a controversial bill to ban smoking in public parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas.
Under the new rules, smokers will be barred from smoking cigarettes in the city's 1,700 parks as well as on beaches, near pools, and in city squares. Smoking will still be allowed on sidewalks as well as on pedestrian routes running through parks. Violators will be met with $50 fines.
Proponents argued that the ban would protect New Yorkers from harmful second-hand smoke as well as limit unsightly cigarette butts in parks and on beaches.
"This summer, New Yorkers who go to our parks and beaches for some fresh air and fun will be able to breathe even cleaner air and sit on a beach not littered with cigarette butts," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "By voting to prohibit smoking in all 1,700 City parks and 14 miles of beaches, the City Council will help us protect more New Yorkers from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who co-sponsored the bill, agreed.
"The statistics don’t lie: second hand smoke kills. With this bill, all New Yorkers can now breathe easier and breathe cleaner air," she said.
But smokers and smoking rights’ advocates slammed the bill as an infringement of their freedom.
"There is absolutely no supportable evidence that anybody is being hurt by smoke outdoors. It’s not a public health campaign. It’s a public hate campaign," Audrey Silk, the founder of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment said following the vote.
She also warned lawmakers to expect clashes.
"There’s only one response to this and it is only civil disobedience," Silk said.
Upper Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson, one of two Manhattan Council members who voted against the ban, said he thought the bill went too far.
"He understands the health aspects and he also understands the civil liberties issue," spokeswoman Sarah Morgridge said. "In the end he just thought it was just a little too paternalistic a step for the city to be taking."