Most parks, beaches would ban smoking under bill

By MICHAEL GORMLEY
The Associated Press
5/14/01 2:47 PM
 
 

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Ah, the rhythmic waves on the beach, the gentle breeze in your face, the cigarette butts between your toes.

Assemblyman Alexander Grannis said Monday he wants to change that scene with a measure to outlaw cigarettes in most parks and beaches from Niagara Falls to Long Island.

"I felt it always seemed so inappropriate," said Grannis, a Manhattan Democrat, of cigarettes stubbed and discarded on beaches and parks where they often slip through cleanup rakes. "You put your hand in the sand and pull it out and have a handful of cigarette butts."

Grannis was a prime sponsor of the 1989 Clean Indoor Air Act, which either banned smoking in indoor areas or required businesses like restaurants to set up nonsmoking sections. Though his new proposal could be seen as an extension of the indoor air act, Grannis said he regards it as an environmental issue and not a public health issue.

"My bill says you couldn't smoke on the beach," he said. "There's no reason you should have to sit next to a smoker puffing away outside, either. Most smokers think it's their God-given right to drop their cigarettes anywhere."

Not everyone agreed with Grannis.

"I hate that man," fumed Audrey Silk, founder of New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.

She said people don't have to sit next to a smoker: "They can get up and walk away and sit next to someone who isn't smoking."

"This is an anti-smoking bill masquerading as a litter bill," she said.

Blair Horner of the anti-smoking New York Public Interest Research Group said the bill "makes sense" from the standpoint of beautifying beaches and parks. But he said an argument cannot be made about the health effects of second-hand smoke outdoors.

"There is no science on that," Horner said Monday.

Grannis' proposal, which has yet to attract a Senate sponsor, would exempt the Adirondack and Catskill parks. He said that is not because the problem doesn't exist there, too -- "You hike to the top of Mount Marcy and you see cigarette butts" -- but that people reside within the boundaries of the park.

"How in the world can you tell people in the Adirondack Park you can't smoke?" he asked Monday.

Grannis blamed smokers everywhere for being blind to the effects on the environment of tossing cigarette butts onto sidewalks or out car windows.

"These are otherwise responsible people," he said. "They don't think it's littering."

Grannis said the filters in cigarettes, made of a plastic derivative, do not biodegrade and are virtually "indestructible." His legislation would lapse if the state reaches a point where only biodegradable cigarettes are sold in New York.

Penalties under Grannis' new proposal would be identical to those for violations of the Clean Indoor Health Act, which calls for fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

In April, the New Jersey seaside community of Belmar adopted a ban on smoking on the beach except in designated areas. Disposable ash trays were provided in the 100-foot-wide puffing area on the mile-long beach. Violations carry a $25 fine.

In recent years smoking was banned on public beaches in communities including Carmel, Putnam County; Mount Olive, N.J.; Sharon, Mass., and Honolulu. But neither Grannis nor Silk said they've seen a law as extensive as the one proposed by the assemblyman.

Silk did not dispute that cigarette butts are a problem on beaches and in parks, but, "That's been going on for as long as smoking as been going on and no one brought it up until smoking became a political football."

She added: "What about all the beer cans and soda cans and diapers? Why aren't they included?"