Smokers Sound Off On Proposed Ban

Christopher Thomasson 2Stephen Harausz Christopher Thomasson enjoys a smoke in Tompkins Square Park.

Smokers in the East Village have gotten used to being a drag on society. They cried tyranny eight years ago, when the Health Department banished them from bars and restaurants. They vowed to quit when recent taxes pushed the price of a pack near $15. Now City Hall wants to ban them from parks, beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian plazas.

So how does the proposal strike denizens of Tompkins Square, the only major park in the neighborhood? Judging from a random Sunday afternoon sampling of smokers and non-smokers, the diverse crowd has its reservations.

Two young men, Evan and Mike, said they support the ban’s objective, calling smoke an annoyance, even in open air. But the pair also said the law seemed to be “over-reaching,” and “worrisome.” Another man echoed their sentiments, calling the proposal another arm of the Bloomberg Administration’s “nannying.”

Gary, a middle-aged reader on a neighboring bench, added that he thinks it will be impossible to enforce, because the city can’t even crack down on drinking and drug dealing in the park.

After being told that the city would be counting on civic-minded citizens and Department of Parks and Recreation workers to enforce the rule, he offered: “That will just lead to stabbings and other altercations. There are a lot of crazies in the park. The worker’s job is to sweep up trash. They don’t get paid enough to get a gun pulled on them because they told someone to put out a cigarette.”

A group of cigar puffing men offered another colorful take. “Part of quality of life is having consideration for the minority,” their spokesman barked, cigar smoke curling out of his mouth. “Let’s ban children screaming in restaurants. Let’s have police shoot dogs whose owners don’t clean up after them.”

Dave in the Dog ParkStephen Harausz Most smokers interviewed on a recent afternoon in Tompkins Square Park opposed a proposal to extend the city’s ban on lighting up.

An older woman named Lucia added, “I don’t smoke but it’s a big park, there’s room for everybody.” And a young couple with children agreed that while they don’t enjoy second hand smoke, they have the option of walking away from smokers.

Deaths from smoking-related illness have fallen in New York under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, but one man, Jacob, wondered if the ends have justified the means. “You kick the smokers outside the bar, so now they stand on the sidewalk under my window smoking and yelling all night. That’s great for my health.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that 65 percent of the public supports the measure. A far lower percentage of those interviewed in Tompkins Square Park offered their support of the plan. Regardless of the public’s mood, proponents of the proposal said that the measure would either be implemented through the City Council, or by changing the bylaws of the Parks Department.

In any event, it seems likely that the ban will be put in place regardless of what Tompkins Square regulars think.

What’s your opinion? Should the city’s smoking ban be extended to include parks and beaches?