Public Health Groups Applaud Bill to Prohibit Smoking at City Parks, Beaches

ALBANY, NY (09/15/2010)(readMedia)-- The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association / American Stroke Association and the American Lung Association in New York today applauded legislation which will be introduced in the New York City Council that would ban smoking in all City parks and beaches. The legislation, to be introduced Thursday, is sponsored by Councilmember Gale A. Brewer (D-Manhattan). Under the provisions of the bill, all smoking in City parks and beaches would be strictly prohibited, offering park patrons and beachgoers much needed protection from the harmful effects of secondhand tobacco smoke. This legislation builds upon existing City law protecting the public from outdoor secondhand smoke including smokefree hospital grounds and smokefree playgrounds.

"With the health and well-being of so many New Yorkers at stake, it is absolutely critical that smoking be prohibited at parks and beaches without further delay," said Scott T. Santarella, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York. "This bill will reduce pollution, save New Yorkers' lives and make our parks and beaches the healthy recreational areas that they were intended to be."

"Tobacco smoke is a known asthma trigger," Santarella continued. "Being exposed to secondhand smoke can mean the difference between managing your asthma and having an asthma attack that sends you to the hospital. This bill is sorely needed in New York because far too many people are being forced to breathe in toxic smoke that puts their health at risk."

Santarella noted that secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to children. Since children's lungs are smaller, they breathe in 50 percent more air pollution than adults. In fact, secondhand smoke has been linked to being a significant cause of early childhood asthma.

The groups said that the dangers of secondhand smoke are well documented and have resulted in more state and local governments acting to restrict smoking in outdoor areas, including parks and beaches. They noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies secondhand smoke as a "Group A" (known) carcinogen.

"Our message today is clear: there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke -- not inside, not outside, not anywhere," said Donald Distasio, CEO of the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey. "New Yorkers deserve the chance to take their children to the playground or spend an afternoon walking along the beach without being exposed to the dangerous effects of tobacco smoke. The American Cancer Society is proud to stand with New York's top leaders as we prepare to take another step forward in protecting the health of our families."

The public health organizations further noted that secondhand smoke has been scientifically linked to contributing to and causing dozens of diseases and illnesses including asthma, heart disease, respiratory tract infections and ear infections. Nationwide, secondhand smoke is responsible for 54,000 deaths each year and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) reports that more than 7,500 New Yorkers die from smoking-related diseases each year. Furthermore, secondhand smoke is responsible for 3,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide in nonsmokers each year. And anyone exposed to secondhand smoke during everyday activities faces a much higher lifetime risk of lung cancer.

In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report declaring there is no "risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be harmful to your health."

"Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of cardiovascular disease in our city, and approximately 20 New Yorkers are killed every day due to smoking-related diseases" stated William B. Borden, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Public Health, Division of Cardiology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "This measure, championed by thought-leaders of tobacco control in our nation, will undoubtedly serve to encourage more smokers to quit this deadly habit. And by targeting the city's parks and beaches, we're removing the influence of tobacco smoke in areas where our young people and families enjoy their free time. It's another important step to building a more heart-healthy New York City and we thank Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Farley, and Council Member Brewer and her colleagues in Council for their leadership in support of our mission."

The public health groups said they strongly support Councilmember Brewer's bill and will be advocating for its swift passage in the City Council so it can be sent on to Mayor Bloomberg for final approval.