New York: The City that Never Smokes?


New York, I love you, but you're bringing me down:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has already banned smoking in restaurants and bars, wants to prohibit it in much of the great outdoors: parks, beaches and even pedestrian malls and plazas like those around Times Square, on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn and Broadway on the Upper West Side.  

The proposed law, which is to be introduced to the City Council on Thursday, would cover all 1,700 parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities, and 14 miles of city beaches, as well as boardwalks, public marinas and the public pedestrian malls and plazas. 

City health officials proposed a smoking ban in parks and beaches last year, but the mayor seemed to be caught off guard by the idea and did not immediately embrace it. But after he and his health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, spent months looking at studies, Mr. Bloomberg delivered a broadside against secondhand smoke at a news conference on Wednesday and said that one poll showed 65 percent of adults were with him.   

Research showed, he said, that someone seated within three feet of a smoker — even in the open air — was exposed to roughly the same levels of secondhand smoke as someone sitting indoors in the same situation.       

But how far can you really go with that argument? The case for banning smoking in bars and restaurants because of secondhand smoking only took off when backers of smoking bans began arguing that those laws would protect service industry workers who couldn't do their jobs without prolonged exposure to smoke. They could at least make the argument that those workers had little choice but to put up with secondhand smoke for extended periods of time. This time, Bloomberg and his fellow anti-smoking crusaders won't be able to make the same case.

Still, backers of the proposed ban can always follow the lead of anti-smoking types in Los Angeles and say they're out to protect the wee ones. In today's story, the obligatory for-the-children justification comes from a resident (of Brooklyn, naturally) rather than a city official:

Melissa Sullivan, 32, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, said her 1-year-old daughter's playmate had picked a cigarette butt off the ground and almost put it in her mouth. "There is a baby boom in the neighborhood," Ms. Sullivan said. "As a mom, I don't want my baby to see smoking and think it's acceptable."       

In this situation, one might usually suggest that a parent take steps to teach the child that smoking is not acceptable. But that might be too much to ask.

Jacob Sullum takes on the secondhand-smoke justification here. More from Reason on smoking bans here