Last week, Mayor Bloomberg signed an important and historic law to protect the health of New Yorkers by making public parks and beaches smoke-free. These outdoor spaces which are enjoyed for their beauty and recreation by adults and children alike will now be free of deadly secondhand smoke. The passage of this law builds on the trend-setting smoking restrictions put in place since 2002 that have saved more than 350,000 lives and made the city’s air safe for all.
The new law, which goes into effect on May 23, will reduce the number of people exposed to the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke. Containing more than 250 toxins, secondhand smoke can be deadly and contribute to premature death and disease in children and adults. Exposure to secondhand smoke can increase respiratory infections, cause ear problems, and worsen asthma in children and adults. According to the Surgeon General, there is no safe level of exposure — either indoors or out.
Despite the widespread perception that secondhand smoke is not a threat outdoors, studies show that exposure can be just as high outdoors as inside. Despite strong indoor air laws in the city, residents are still being exposed to secondhand smoke. In fact, 57 percent of city residents (compared to 45 percent of people nationwide) have elevated levels of cotinine in their blood, a by-product of nicotine.
Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the city, responsible for one in three preventable deaths, and one in seven deaths overall. It is our hope that this new law will draw the attention of New Yorkers who are still smoking, and will help them try to quit. The city has great resources available for those who want to quit; call 311 or (866) NYQUITS or visit nysmokefree.com.
New York now joins more than 450 other municipalities across the country that have also enacted similar smoke-free parks policies. We expect, and look forward to, smoke-free parks and beaches quickly becoming an accepted social norm — just like when the city extended smoke-free protections to offices, restaurants, bars, and hospital entrances.
This new law is a victory for the health of millions of people who live in or visit our city and want to breathe clean air. They can now do so when enjoying our world-renowned, and smoke-free, parks and beaches.
Sheelah Feinberg is executive director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City.