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Is New York City’s Outdoor Smoking Ban Going To Be Successful?

Submitted by on May 27, 2011 – 2:13 am9 Comments
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If you’re looking to light up in New York City, your chances of finding a place to do it just went up in smoke.

Starting last week, the Big Apple placed a ban on smoking in most public places, including public parks, beaches and, most notably, “pedestrian plazas” like Times Square. Those found smoking in any of these areas will be subject to a $50 fine. The thought behind the ban on smoking in New York City is that it will help eliminate second-hand smoke and force smokers to limit their smoking to their own private property or areas where they will not pollute the air other people have to breathe in.

They’re not the first major city to impose a ban like this—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City also have bans on smoking in public places—but they are certainly the most high-profile city to put a ban like this into place. Just a couple of decades ago, smoking was the least of the Big Apple’s worries. But as the  dangers of second-hand smoke have increased—about 50,000 people die from it every year—the city has taken a strong stance of smoking moving forward. However, will this smoking ban actually work? We don’t think so. Here are a few reasons why the new ban won’t end NYC’s smoking problem.

As of right now, the law essentially has to be enforced by those who want it to be enforced.

There are a lot of people who smoke in New York City. So officials already know it will be difficult to ticket everyone who lights up in a public place where smoking is banned. Therefore, they’re counting on regular people to tell others to put out their cigarettes in banned zones. We’re not sure if you’ve ever tried to tell someone from New York City to do, well, anything, but guess what? It’s usually not met with an “Okay!” and a smile. So, how long ’til the first fight stemming from the smoking ban winds up on WorldStar?

Cigarettes cost a fortune in NYC—and NYC smokers feel a certain sense of entitlement because of it.

When you’re paying 10 bucks or more for a pack of cigarettes, you’re probably not going to let anyone tell you where you can or can’t smoke. Especially if you’re standing outside. That high price alone means that smokers aren’t going to be quick to put out their smokes if they’re standing in a banned area.

There are plenty of groups against this law that are already speaking out.

Anyone who doesn’t smoke probably wants this law on the books. But unlike a few years ago when they pushed hard to get smoking banned in restaurants and other indoor spaces—and rightfully so—they’re not likely to push as hard as they did back then for this new law. On the flip side, smokers understood the complaints about smoking in indoor spaces to a degree and didn’t fight that law extra hard, but they’re much more likely to be upset about this new one. To them, it’s a violation of their rights—and represents a misstep by the local government. So expect groups like the newly-formed C.L.A.S.H. (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment)—which is already staging a “smoke in the park” event—to fight hard to have their voices heard.

The ban doesn’t yet extend to many of the outdoor places that really bother non-smokers.

You’re not allowed to smoke in the airways or anywhere near the airways of most buildings in New York City, but smokers still manage to congregate as close to them as possible. And under this new ban, that’s still okay (there are some exceptions!). The sidewalks of New York City are actually where smoke bothers non-smokers the most, so until the ban blankets the entire city, we don’t see it making a huge difference for non-smokers yet.

There just aren’t enough ways to enforce a law like this.

This law reminds us a lot of the seatbelt tickets that were imposed on drivers in most states a few years back. In theory, the law makes sense and is designed to protect people. But it’s going to be tough to impose it unless NYC takes a tough approach with it and makes it a priority to bust people smoking in banned areas. And even if they do do that, it seems like a big waste of manpower when you consider all of the other things that law officers could be doing. We get it—smoking is bad! But we don’t see this ban doing a whole lot to change that for anyone.

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