Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sincerity of New York City Park Smoking Ban Comes Into Question after Just One Ticket Issued in First Month

After one full month of enforcement, New York City's park smoking ban has resulted in the grand total of one ticket, according to an article in the Daily Mail.

According to the article: "It was supposed to be sweeping legislation covering 1,700 parks and 14 miles of coastline. But New York’s ban on smoking in public places has been branded an 'absolute joke' after just one ticket was issued in the first month of the law coming into force. Newly-released data shows that since May 23, around 700 people have been approached by cops for lighting up where they shouldn't have done. Of those just one has actually been given a ticket - and he was a photographer who was goading officers into doing so." ...

"Ida Sanoff, from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, said: 'The new smoking law is an absolute joke.' She said: 'I have asthma and there are days when I've had to move my chair three times because people, sometimes in groups, sat down near me and started smoking like chimneys. She told the Wall Street Journal that she has even seen people selling cigarettes on the beach since the ban came in. 'It doesn't make sense to put a law into place without any way of enforcing it. Why bother?' she said."

The Rest of the Story

This leads me to question the sincerity of the health activists in trying to convince us that smoking in parks is a substantial public health hazard that is causing such significant health problems that it requires government intervention.

If you believe that an ordinance violation represents a serious threat to the health of innocent bystanders, then you enforce that ordinance. If you truly believe in the cause, then you should believe in it enough to enforce it. And the most important day to enforce it is day 1. Once you set a precedent by not fining anyone, the law loses its teeth and everyone comes to understand that it is basically a show-piece, not a serious piece of health protection.

When we enforced Boston's smoke-free restaurant law the first day it came into effect, we aggressively inspected establishments and levied fines that very day. We meant business, because the pretense for the law was that it was necessary to protect the lives and health of restaurant workers. If you believe in that premise, then you must also believe that it is essential to enforce the law because lives are at stake.

Clearly, New York City health officials are not concerned that much other than comfort is at stake because they don't see smoking in a park as deserving anything more than a warning.

To be clear, I agree with those officials. However, they shouldn't have deceived us in the first place by arguing - before the law went into effect - that it was necessary to address a serious public health problem.

I think Ida Sanoff of Brighton Beach is quite right. If you're not going to enforce a law, if you don't believe in it enough to enforce it, then why enact it in the first place?

When push comes to shove, I believe that health advocates are now essentially acknowledging that this was largely a feel-good ordinance and that it doesn't address any severe public health hazard. Thus, enforcement is (rightly) not a priority.

Why weren't the health groups honest with us before the ordinance was passed?

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