Newsday: Hempstead plan targets smokers at parks, beaches

(November 10, 2010)

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November 10, 2010 by NICHOLAS SPANGLER

A proposed ordinance in Hempstead aims to banish smokers at 100 of the town's most-used parks and beaches to remote areas away from playgrounds, ballfields and swimming pools.

The town would join more than 200 municipalities across New York and about a half-dozen on Long Island with similar rules if it passes the ordinance, scheduled for a public hearing Dec. 7.

"There's enough good science on the effects of secondhand smoke that this makes sense," said Supervisor Kate Murray, who announced the proposal at a news conference Wednesday with Councilwoman Angie Cullin, a Republican, and Carol Meschkow of the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island, an advocacy group funded by the state Department of Health.

The ordinance would carry no penalty, relying on signs, park workers and ultimately the civic-mindedness of anyone who wants to light up in public to seek out smoking spots first.

Proponents say they hope to change the social norms surrounding outdoor smoking, and even smoking in general. "There will come a time when we look back and laugh because we can't believe we used to let something like this happen," said the American Lung Association's Mike Seilback. The very scent of smoke, Seilback said, means that carcinogenic particulates are being inhaled.

Opposition to similar ordinances - prominently voiced at a New York City Council hearing last month, for instance - often is framed in terms of civil liberties and governmental intrusion. As Audrey Silk of the group New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment put it: "This is a campaign to make it impossible to have a cigarette and further stigmatize smokers."

In Hempstead, the ordinance's passage seems a foregone conclusion. Cullin said her husband, a regular smoker, died due to complications from smoking, and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat, said her husband, who also used to smoke, underwent surgery for lung cancer. Even Republican Councilman Edward Ambrosino, who said he usually opposes regulation of personal behavior, will be making an exception. "If someone chooses to smoke, so be it," he said. But "when that smoke travels and children are forced to breathe it, that's a problem."

According to the website tobaccofreenys.org, affiliated with the New York Tobacco Control Program, municipalities with similar ordinances include the Town of Oyster Bay and the villages of Garden City and New Hyde Park in Nassau, and the Town of Huntington and the Village ofSouthampton in Suffolk.

Brookhaven Town plans to hold a public hearing before the end of the year on a proposed law that would ban smoking in parks and recreational areas. The law would allow the town to fine offenders up to $250 per offense