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Norwood News Bronx, NY:  January 13, 2011

Local Groups Push for Parks and Beaches Smoking Ban

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Community groups and local legislators are looking to drum up support this year for a City Council bill that would ban smoking in public parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas across the five boroughs.

“The Bronx has more parks and beaches than any other borough, so that would really transform the landscape here,” said David Lehmann, program manager for the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, one of the local organizations advocating passage of the bill.

The proposed law was first introduced by Manhattan Councilwoman Gail Brewer last year. Co-sponsors include Bronx Council Members Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Fernando Cabrera, Helen D. Foster, and Joel Rivera.

Supporters say the parks and beaches ban is an essential step to reducing the harm caused by second hand smoke.

“In my district, the number of asthma cases is alarming,” said Mark-Viverito, who represents Mott Haven, at a City Council hearing last fall. “I’m concerned about my constituents’ ability to enjoy outdoor activities without being subjected to additional airborne pollutants brought on by second hand smoke.”

The Bronx still has one of the highest smoking rates in the city.

“I see parents walking down the street with their child in one hand and a cigarette in another hand,” said Juan Rios of the Highbridge Community Life Center, which is teaming up with the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking.

“This is really important for our children,” he said. “Hopefully the legislation will give us sanctuary for nonsmokers, and also smokers who are trying to quit.”

Supporters also argue that cigarette butts make up the majority of litter in parks and on beaches, and that they take over a year and a half to degrade, Rios said.

If passed, the legislation would be the latest in a series of moves by the city over the last decade or so to strengthen tobacco control.  New York City has previously approved smoking bans in restaurants, bars and in the workplace, and enacted hefty cigarette taxes to discourage smokers from buying them.

Critics of the legislation say it would unfairly punish smokers. In response, Councilman Peter Vallone of Queens introduced his own version of the bill last fall as a compromise: it proposes that parks have designated smoking areas equal to at least 20 percent of their space. Smoking would still be banned in the rest of the park under the legislation.

  
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