Anti-Smoking Bill Assailed As Civil Liberties 'Smokescreen'

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

New York ( - No-smoking signs may go up in public parks and beaches across New York, if one state assemblyman has his way. Alexander Grannis, a Democrat from Manhattan, said he's motivated by environmental concerns more than public health issues.

"Most smokers think it's their God-given right to drop their cigarettes anywhere. There's no reason you should have to sit next to a smoker puffing away outside as well," he said.

Describing a visit to the beach, Grannis complained, "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 such as restaurants to set up designated nonsmoking sections.

His new bill would extend smoking bans to outdoor public property, including many - but not all - public beaches and parks. The law would exempt parks and beaches in the Adirondacks and Catskill region. But Grannis said that's only because many people live within the boundaries of the park.

To critics, Grannis's bill is merely a "smokescreen."

"He (Grannis) is an anti-smoker who wants a smoke-free society," said Audrey Silk, founder of the New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment. She said Grannis's bill is all about smoking and not about litter, as he has claimed.

"This is an anti-smoking bill masquerading as a litter bill. If it truly is a litter bill, then make all smokers bring their own receptacles, said Silk. "Why do away with the activity?"

Silk criticizes the bill because it targets individuals rather than penalizing the tobacco companies. "This is not a bill against big tobacco. This bill fights citizens -- citizens who have rights." According to Silk, smokers have become a "politically correct, government sanctioned target."

Silk does not dispute the fact that cigarette butts are a problem on beaches and in parks, but she said, "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. What about people who picnic and leave beer and soda cans on the beach. Do we ban eating in public places? I've seen parents leave diapers in the sand. Do we ban babies in public places, too?"

"They (anti-smokers) want no accommodation or compromise," says Silk. "The more we (smokers) compromise, the more they will try to take away."

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

Last month, the New Jersey oceanfront community of Belmar adopted a ban on smoking at the beach except in designated areas. The township provides disposable ash trays in a 100-foot-wide section of the mile-long beach. Violations carry a $25 fine.

In recent years smoking also has been banned on public beaches in communities including Carmel, N.Y.; Mount Olive, N.J.; Sharon, Mass.; and Honolulu.

Grannis said the filters in most cigarettes, made of plastic, are not biodegradable. He said his legislation would lapse if the state reaches a point where only biodegradable cigarettes are sold in New York. Grannis' proposal has yet to attract a Senate sponsor.