Health and Environmental Advocates Rally in Support of Smoke Free Parks, Beaches and Pedestrian Plazas

Kids Deserve Clean Air and Clean Places to Play

(October 14, 2010)

Health advocates, joined by City Council members and parks advocates, gathered on the steps of City Hall today to applaud a proposal before the City Council to extend smoke-free policies to include parks, beaches, and pedestrian plazas. Such a move, which goes before the Council’s Health Committee for a hearing, would reduce secondhand smoke exposure and eliminate cigarette butts, the number one source of beach litter afflicting families seeking clean fun in the city.  

“We applaud Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and the New York City Council for supporting this proposal to protect New Yorkers from secondhand smoke.  New Yorkers use parks to play and enjoy a beautiful autumn day. We feel strongly that everyone has the right to breathe clean air at a park, beach, or pedestrian plaza,” said Sheelah A. Feinberg, the Executive Director of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free City. “Big Tobacco never rests in its campaign to recruit new customers and we won’t rest either in fighting to protect the health of New Yorkers”

Mayor Bloomberg and City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, along with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, have expressed support for the proposal to extend smoke-free policies.

“It's not just a health issue, as any beachgoer knows: despite the clean-up efforts of the Parks Department, the sand is too often used as an ashtray,” said Councilmember Gale A. Brewer, the prime sponsor of the bill (Intro. 332-2010) before the Health Committee today.

“Smoking is an individual choice, but it creates public health problems for all of us,” Brewer said. “This law would make it official: smoking in the parks impacts everyone, just as in restaurants and bars. Smoking is not allowed in playgrounds, and it should not be allowed in our parks.”

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Chair of the Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, said, “Big Tobacco has demonstrated its goal of targeting young people, especially people of color in communities like I represent, as new customers to replace the customers that keep dying off from using their products.

“Extending protections against second hand smoke to the places where families gather for healthy recreation is an important step in protecting our communities from Big Tobacco,” Mark-Viverito said.

 New York City has been a leader in many tobacco control policies, but in this one, smoke-free parks and beaches, we follow the lead of other cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. According to a survey by the Americans for Non-Smokers Rights Foundation, there are currently 97 municipalities in the United States that restrict smoking on beaches.  Closer to home, ten counties in New York State already have adopted smoke-free policies for their beaches and 34 counties in New York State have also adopted smoke-free policies for their parks.

Since the passage of the Smoke-Free Air Act in 2002, we have learned that the health risks of exposure to secondhand smoke outdoors are similar to the risks indoors within a certain proximity. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and even relatively short periods of breathing the carcinogens and toxins found in secondhand smoke can increase risk of blood clots and lead to more frequent asthma attacks.

 “The numbers are frightening: 3,400 non-smoking adults die of lung cancer every year as a result of breathing in second hand smoke,” said Maureen Killackey, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey, and Medical Director at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  “As a doctor, I know that secondhand smoke is a Class A carcinogen and unsafe at any level. As an aunt, I know that I can’t spend a day in the park with my nephew without jeopardizing his health. Smoke-free parks and beaches will limit exposure to cancer causing chemicals and help to keep kids from picking up this deadly habit.”

 “Children and families deserve to enjoy a day at the park or beach without having to worry about whether secondhand smoke exposure will inhibit their ability to breathe and ruin their good time,”  said  Scott T. Santarella, President & CEO of the American Lung Association in New York.  “The U.S Surgeon General has declared that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.  It worsens asthma conditions and has been linked to being a significant cause of early childhood asthma. The Lung Association strongly supports making all of New York City’s parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas smoke-free.”

 “Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of cardiovascular disease in our city, and approximately 20 New Yorkers are killed every day due to smoking-related diseases,” said William B. Borden, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Public Health, Division of Cardiology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.  “By making the city’s parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas smoke-free, we’re removing the influence of tobacco smoke in areas where our young people and families enjoy their free time.  It’s another important step to building a more heart-healthy New York City.”

 On parks and beaches, most discarded cigarette butts end up in the sand or sea, posing health and environmental hazards.  Children, in particular, may pick them up, put them in their mouths and risk choking, poisoning or burning themselves. Discarded cigarette butts are an increasing problem worldwide, with an estimated 4.5 trillion tossed aside each year, making them the most littered item on the planet. Cigarette butts are the number one source of beach litter. Studies show they are toxic, slow to decompose, and costly to remove.

 “Bringing New Yorkers to the waterfront includes protecting them, especially children, from toxic residues, whether in the water or cigarette butts polluting the sand,” said Jeanne DuPont, Executive Director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance.  “We strongly support a ban on smoking on our beaches and hope that the city will do all that is necessary to make New York City beaches clean and safe for all New Yorkers."

“Under Mayor Bloomberg's leadership, New York City has been a global leader in the fight against tobacco use and has made significant progress by implementing higher tobacco taxes, comprehensive smoke-free air laws and hard-hitting tobacco prevention and cessation campaigns,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  “The proposed extension of the city’s smoke-free policies to parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas continues the city's innovative efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.”

 The New York City Coalition for a Smoke Free City works to raise public awareness of tobacco control issues in New York City.  New York City successfully implemented smoke-free workplace legislation in 2002 and already bans smoking in children’s playgrounds and public pools, including outdoor pools.