New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that he will seek approval for an ordinance that would ban outdoors smoking in all city parks - including Central Park - and on streets and sidewalks that are part of traffic-free city plazas, such as that in Times Square.
According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the reason for the smoking ban is to protect the public from brief exposure to secondhand smoke and its associated health risks:
"Officials said they are basing the proposed law on claims that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can pose health risks. “The science is clear: prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, whether you're indoors or out, hurts your health,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “Today, we're doing something about it.” ... Officials cited a May 2007 Stanford University study that found a person sitting within three feet of a smoker outdoors can be exposed to levels of secondhand smoke similar to indoor levels."
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My readers should be well aware that I agree with Mayor Bloomberg's contention that prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke is harmful and I also agree that secondhand smoke exposure outdoors can be significant if you are within three feet of a smoker. However, the question I have is this: Why would a nonsmoker in Central Park be within three feet of a smoker? Couldn't the person simply move away? Why would the exposure be prolonged? Wouldn't the nonsmoker simply walk away?
There seems to be a disconnect behind the scientific data being cited and the actual proposal. The scientific data would support a ban on outdoors smoking in locations where nonsmokers have little choice but to be within close proximity of someone smoking, such as in a stadium or arena with fixed seating where the nonsmoker can't simply move away. It would also support a ban on smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants, where the seats are fixed and a nonsmoker might not easily be able to avoid the exposure.
But the argument does not extend to wide open areas like Central Park and hundreds of other large parks in New York City where there is plenty of room for nonsmokers to walk away from someone who is smoking if they wish to avoid the exposure.
While I would still oppose the ordinance, I would have greater respect for the officials proposing it if they would simply tell the truth about the reasons for the proposal: They simply don't want nonsmokers to have to even see smokers in public places. They don't want nonsmokers to ever have to even breathe in one whiff of secondhand smoke. This is not about any serious threat of public health harm.