By Jill Colvin and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN — Cigarette breaks at public parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas, including Times Square and Union Square, will be snuffed out under an expanded smoking ban proposed Wednesday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the plan to extend the ban on butts now in place at city bars and restaurants. Smoking would still be permitted on sidewalks and open streets.
"People who choose to smoke don't have a license to poison the air others breathe," the mayor said at a press conference outlining the proposed rules. "Even out in the open air, second-hand smoke can be dangerous."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn pointed to a study by the city's Health Department that found that 57 percent of non-smoking New Yorkers suffer from the impacts of second-hand smoke — higher than the national average, despite the ban on indoor smoking.
While many believe that being outside diminishes cigarettes' impact, she said, "That understandable belief simply is not true."
But smokers' rights advocates are fuming, saying the proposed ban takes the city's war against smoking too far.
"It's ludicrous," said Audrey Silk, the founder of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, the most prominent smokers’ rights group in the city.
"There's no evidence whatsoever — not a shred — that being outside within a couple of feet of a smoker is harmful," she said, contradicting the mayor.
Silk said she sees the move as a direct attack on New Yorkers' personal freedoms.
But the mayor said the city's ban, and other attempts to "create a healthier environment for its citizens" has helped New Yorkers live longer. He also said 65 percent of New Yorkers favor such a ban.
"Most people don’t like their beaches being used as ash trays," he said.
Just outside, at City Hall Park, smoker Madeline Gair, 63, a writer who lives in Queens, said she opposed the ban.
"It's ridiculous. It's too far," she said.
Non-smoker Andrew Bell, 26, an actor who lives in Washington Heights, said that while he doesn't like the smell of smoke, he thinks the city currently has bigger problems to worry about.
"Smoking is not on my list of very important things for the mayor to address," he said.
The ban will be introduced at a City Council meeting Thursday.
Asked how the ban will be enforced, public officials said they will rely on residents to police each other.
The hope is that residents will feel empowered to ask each other to butt out "politely," Quinn said.
The Parks Department will also be able to issue violation summons on its property, officials said.
The enforcement problem was a reason Bloomberg didn't fully support the idea of a broader smoking ban when it was first proposed last year.
"The real issue is, if you're sitting in the middle of Sheep Meadow and you're the only one there, are you doing any damage to anybody other than killing yourself? Probably not," Bloomberg told the Times last September.
Bloomberg had also cited the "practical aspect" of enforcing such a law, reportedly saying that police and park rangers already "have a lot of things to do."
Smoking kills 7,500 New Yorkers a year, more than AIDS, drugs, homicide and suicide combined, city health commissioner Thomas Farley said.