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New York Bans Smoking From All Public Parks and Beaches

July 18, 2022 by Eden Metzger
New York Bans Smoking From All Public Parks and Beaches
Sunbathers on Jones Beach, Long Island, New York (Photo by Chanilim via Wikimedia Commons)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul has signed legislation that bans smoking from all of New York state’s public beaches and parks. 

“Smoking is a dangerous habit that affects not only the smoker but everyone around them, including families and children enjoying our state’s great public places,” said  Hochul as she signed the bill into law on Friday.

“I’m proud to sign this legislation that will protect New Yorker’s health and help reduce litter in public parks and beaches across the state,” she added.

Democratic Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a sponsor of the bill, said, “New Yorkers head to our parks for fresh air and to foster a healthy lifestyle. Smoking is the opposite of that.” 

The bill will prohibit smoking from public spaces, including playgrounds and beaches. Those who violate the ban will be subject to a $50 fine. 

Smoking will still be allowed along the outskirts of these spaces, such as parking lots, sidewalks, and in specified areas in the Adirondacks and Catskills. E-cigarettes are excused from the bill.

“New York’s public parks are family friendly venues. No one, especially children, should be subjected to secondhand smoke while playing on a playground or enjoying the day at a public beach or campsite. Our parks also shouldn’t be tainted by non-biodegradable cigarette butts scattered throughout their grounds,” noted Democratic state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky. 

There are currently over 300 city beaches where smoking is prohibited. Legislation for smoke-free public spaces is picking up steam. Similarly, Florida recently expanded the Florida Clean Air Act, and its beaches will be smoke-free starting July 1. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two in five children are exposed to secondhand smoke, and one in four adult nonsmokers, or 58 million people, are exposed to secondhand smoke. 

The CDC found that secondhand smoke kills up to 41,000 adults every year, causing 33,951 deaths due to heart disease and 7,333 deaths due to lung cancer. 

According to the Truth Initiative, cigarette butts remain the most littered item on earth, with an estimated annual 4.5 trillion butts cast upon sidewalks and parks every year — 2 million every minute. Seventy-five percent of cigarette users have admitted to littering cigarette butts. 

Cigarette butts can take up to nine months to fully decompose since they are made of plastic fibers such as cellulose acetate. This creates microplastics, which scientists have found in 90% of sea birds and 52% of turtles.  

During the long months it takes a cigarette to decompose, they can leak toxins such as arsenic into the soil or sand. These toxic chemicals can be dangerous when littered near playgrounds, as children have been hospitalized after ingesting cigarette butts off the ground. 

According to poison control, this is most common in children under 6, and symptoms can range from dizziness and vomiting to severe seizures. For example, poison control shared one of their files of an 8-month-old who consumed two cigarette butts and had to be rushed to the hospital after her breathing became uneven. She spent three days in the pediatric intensive care unit before being released. 

Outside legislation, innovative solutions for stopping the spread of cigarette smoke and pollution have made headway. The Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board’s No Butts Campaign, which aims to create a waste-free New York by 2030, has partnered with Terracycle. 

TerraCycle is a New Jersey-based company expanding the definition of recyclable items. Terracycle works to create park benches out of the plastics in 2,700 cigarette butts, to beautify parks and beaches out of the very material that was littered upon them. 

Eco-friendly alternatives to wasteful practices such as reusable straws and water bottles have solidified a place in Americans’ homes, and the world’s first fully decomposable cigarette options have hit the market.  

“Cigarette butts pollute our oceans more than straws. [They are] the biggest contributor to the plastic pollution problem that we are currently facing,” said Adam van Wyngaarden, CEO of Smokey Treats, adding, “While most of a cigarette is burnt up when smoked, not everything disappears. The filter — or butt — is left behind, with only about a third making it into bins. The rest end up on the street, and then in our oceans.”

Although e-cigarettes are exempt from the ban, they are a large source of waste and health problems. “You may not realize how often e-cigarettes are also littered,” said Christina Curell, educational program director with Parents Against Vaping. 

Much like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain dangerous chemicals. Acording to the Truth Initiative the standard JUUL cartridge contains about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. E-cigarettes are made of metals, plastics, heating coils, and lithium-ion batteries, accounting for both hazardous and electronic waste. “We are talking about products that are meant to be used and thrown away,” Curell continued.  

“For New York City the best way to dispose of them is to take these into SAFE events,” Curell noted. SAFE events are put on by the Environmental Protection Agency as a way to responsibly and safely recycle or dispose of toxic and electronic equipment in order to prevent chemicals from entering the water supply. 

Eden can be reached at eden@thewellnews.com

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