News from NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City: Health and Environmental Advocates Applaud Smoke-Free Parks And Beaches

(May 23, 2011)

Health advocates, environmentalists and parks activists today applauded city leaders as a new law went into effect making all New York City parks, beaches, and pedestrian plazas smoke-free.  The new rules will reduce toxic secondhand smoke exposure for families seeking relaxation and recreation, and reduce pollution from cigarette butts, the number one source of beach litter afflicting families seeking clean fun in the city.  

Activists who have worked in favor of the measure applauded Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn and other elected and public officials for their leadership on tobacco control efforts throughout the City.

“All New Yorkers deserve the right to breathe clean air at our public parks, beaches and plazas. We look forward to a summer of clean air at our parks, less litter at our beaches, and smoke-free picnic tables in our pedestrian plazas.  According to the US Surgeon General there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.  We are pleased that this new policy will protect New Yorkers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” said Sheelah A. Feinberg, Executive Director of NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City.

“Today is a great day for everyone who lives, works in or visits New York City,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York.   “Now that city parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas are officially smoke-free, city dwellers will no longer have to fear walking through a cloud of smoke that could aggravate their asthma or put their health at risk while they’re at a park or public plaza.  We’re grateful to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council members who helped make this new law a reality.”

“New York City has a long history of enacting forward thinking policy and today’s expansion of smoke-free protections to parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas continues that legacy,” said Donald Distasio, CEO of the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey. “The American Cancer Society and the Surgeon General agree: there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, not even outdoors. New Yorkers can literally breathe easier today knowing that they’re legally protected from this toxic chemical, specifically in spaces used for exercise, relaxation, and family gatherings. It’s a great move for a great city. We would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn, the bill's Sponsor, Gale Brewer and the City Council for taking the next step to make our parks, beaches, and air a little bit cleaner.”

“The American Heart Association applauds today’s implementation of the policy that removes smoking from our public beaches, parks and pedestrian plazas,” said Robin Vitale, Senior Director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association. “As we look toward Memorial Day weekend, we hope that New Yorkers take this opportunity to quit this deadly habit.  Smoking is the leading preventable cause of cardiovascular disease in New York City.  The American Heart Association encourages smokers to call 311 to receive assistance in their goal to become smoke-free.”

“New York City today has taken another important step to protect the health of residents and visitors by expanding the Smoke Free Air Act to include parks, beaches and other public areas,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, the Director of Advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Today’s action will further protect everyone’s right to breathe clean, smoke-free air in New York City.  Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer. It is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, respiratory infections and other serious illnesses. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg, Health Commissioner Farley and the City Council for their strong leadership in the fight against tobacco use, the number cause of preventable death in the United States and around the world.”

Since the passage of the Smoke-Free Air Act in 2002, health authorities 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.

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.

The NYC 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.

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