Up in smoke! Beach-goers protest the city’s ban on smoking in parks

Up in smoke! Beach-goers protest the city’s ban on smoking in parks
Photo by Tom Callan

Beach-goers didn’t waste any time blowing smoke in the face of the city’s recently enacted ban on public puffing, as dozens lit up along the Boardwalk in protest during the beach’s opening day.

The “Smoke in the Park Event,” held on Saturday near Brighton Sixth Steet, flouted Mayor Bloomberg’s Smoke-Free Air Act, which passed in February and went into effect on May 23.

No one was ticketed during the rally, though demonstrators risked a $50 fine with their defiance of the new law that bans lighting up in city-run parks and beaches along with other open spaces like the Riegelmann Boardwalk in Coney Island and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

“When the law is an ass, it’s our duty to revolt,” said protest organizer Audrey Silk, founder of the Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.

Silk and her fellow protesters, which inluded members from as far away as Massachusetts, chanted and held signs like “Tobacco Control is Out of Control.” Some even performed smoking stunts, such as inhaling a cigar, cigarette and pipe for a tobacco hat-trick.

The protest took place just two days after city officials kicked off summer in Coney Island with a visit from Health Department officials who claim the new rules will saves lives.
“[The new rule] is going to be great for people’s health,” city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told NY1 on Thursday. “People won’t be exposed to second-hand smoke. It’ll be great for children who won’t be watching smokers and learning how to smoke.”

Bloomberg has been pushing the law, highlighting the dangers of secondhand smoke, namely that even brief exposure to outdoor cigarette smoke can lead to more-frequent asthma attacks in children with the condition, and respiratory ailments in healthy adults.

City data claim that 7,500 New Yorkers die each year from cigarette smoke, and more than half of non-smokers have elevated levels of a nicotine by-product in their blood.

“The science is clear: prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke — whether you’re indoors or out — hurts your health,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

But Marlboro men and women across the borough say that the ban violates their civil liberties.

“I’m not that worried about getting a ticket,” said Kristen Hess, who leisurely puffed her cigarette on the beach.

The Parks Department issued 300 verbal warnings — but only one ticket — to smokers over the weekend.