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Nanny strikes again: NYC bans smoking in parks and beaches

Current cover of The New Yorker

With backing from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York City Council yesterday banned smoking in city parks and beaches.

Bloomberg is known for introducing nannying measures to control personal behavior. This latest ban is an extension of his ban on smoking in restaurants and bars imposed in 2002.

The main reason given for the ban is to prevent second-hand smoking; the Council's advocates for the ban cited City health officials who claim that people within three feet of a smoker are exposed to roughly the same levels of secondhand smoke, both indoors and outdoors. This sounds dubious to me (a non-smoker who has never found outdoor smoking to be a problem). And by this logic, all public smoking should be prohibited. But second-hand smoke is not the only reason given: another is the desire to reduce trash from cigarette butts. Here's my favorite: “There is a lot of research that the cigarette butts are highly toxic to aquatic creatures,” accordingto Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans' for Nonsmokers' Rights in Berkeley, California.

Yet throwing out lots weak arguments does not add up to a strong one. It seems to indicate to me that the new law's backers are grasping at straws. 

This latest health policing move is petty and undermines a free society. It imposes the state in-between smokers and non-smokers, people who are perfectly capable of accommodating one another. If you're a non-smoker in a park and someone's smoke is bothering you (an unlikely circumstance, but possible), you can work it out: either ask them to stop, move away or shrug and forget about it. You don't need a public health official to intervene.

This law and similar ones nationwide treat adults like babies. I hope there is resistance.

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