State proposes no-smoking area at parks

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Thursday, December 13, 2012 | Haley Viccaro and Jon Campbell | Categories:
ALBANY — The state is again trying to ban smoking in certain areas at parks and recreational facilities after a previous attempt was thwarted by a smokers’ rights group. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Recreation has proposed regulations that would prohibit smoking near playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools and other highly used areas at state-operated parks and historic sites. Under the plan, smoking would be restricted to designated areas within New York City’s state parks. The new no-smoking rules were officially proposed by the state earlier this month. “We are accepting public comments on the regulations until January 21,” agency spokesman Dan Keefe said. “It would take about four months from after the Notice of Adoption is published for the regulations to take effect, so it depends on the comments.” The new regulation would require the state parks commissioner to post a list of no-smoking areas. Those areas could include picnic shelters, fishing piers, marinas, concession stands and anywhere within 50 feet of buildings. State park regulators first proposed the smoking restrictions in April, but the proposal was temporarily shelved after a smokers’ rights group filed an objection. That group — New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, or NYC CLASH — sued the state in May, alleging that any smoking prohibitions must be passed by the state Legislature. The lawsuit is pending in state court. “It’s not the function of a state agency to enact a smoking ban,” said Audrey Silk, NYC CLASH’s founder. “We still contend that it must be up to the state Legislature.” The parks department cites several portions of state law as justification for the anti-smoking rule, including a requirement that the agency provide for the “health, safety and welfare of the public” at its facilities. Parks and Trails New York park program director Laura DiBetta said the proposed regulations are a positive step for state parks and public areas. She said visitation numbers at state parks have been rising over the last few years and that people are more supportive. “Anything that we can do to improve the experience for visitors to state parks and enhance recreational activities is a good thing,” DiBetta said. “The culture is changing and a lot of people are supportive of measures to make public places healthier, especially for children.” Under the proposal, the state would be required to install signs at designated no-smoking areas. The parks office said the ban would be limited to less than 5 percent of the 330,000-acre state park system. Smaller parks in New York City would be entirely smoke free. The May lawsuit from the smokers’ rights group called for the removal of no-smoking signs from state parks, pools and other outdoor locations. “The intentional use of signage to fool park visitors into thinking that an unofficial policy has the force of law as a coercive tactic to induce compliance with a moral, rather than a legal, dictate cannot be tolerated,” Silk said at the time. The state oversees 179 parks and 35 historic sites. • To view the proposed no smoking regulations in more detail and by region, visit the state parks’ website (http://nysparks.com/inside-our-agency/rulemaking.aspx). Comments can be sent via e-mail (rule.making@parks.ny.gov) through Jan. 21.
Star-Gazette
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