A ban on smoking while walking? Some New Yorkers find it ‘ridiculous,’ others want a breath of fresh air

New Yorkers, smokers and otherwise, lent their voices to a proposed bill that would ban smoking while walking on public sidewalks.

The legislation, which was sponsored by Councilman Peter Koo (D-Queens) on March 21, is designed to protect pedestrians stuck behind a smoker from secondhand fumes, according to a statement from Koo’s office.

While strolling her 3-year-old niece down Second Avenue in Murray Hill, Monica Tuton, 50, expressed frustration with the leeway given to cigarette smokers in the city.

“There is no place for us to walk on the sidewalk,” she said. “It gets in all the babies’ faces. There are a lot of children with asthma, you know.”

Tuton advocated for designated smoking areas for those so inclined, and said she supported the bill because it would restrict smokers’ ability to move freely in the city.

The legislation, which was referred to the City Council’s Committee on Health, does not ban people from standing still on sidewalks and puffing on cigarettes. It also will not include those who vape, according to Scott Sieber, a spokesman from Koo’s office.

The penalty for smoking while walking would likely be $50 under the bill, Sieber added.

Several New Yorkers viewed the bill as an infringement on smokers’ civil liberties.

“I think to ban smoking, walking on the sidewalk is really an invasion of one’s privacy,” Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Diana Jones, 65, said, adding that Brooklynites would not tolerate such a law. “We should be able to do what we want in the streets.”

Aileen Mahmoodi, 26, of Sunnyside called the proposal “absolutely ridiculous,” adding that the legislation, if passed, will only serve to make her an “angry, stationary smoker,” instead of someone who walks while smoking.

“I don’t believe its really going to do much,” she said. “I think there are too many smokers in New York for something like that to be controlled.”

Since the start of the millennium, the city has passed several laws that target cigarette smoking. In 2003, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration banned smoking in restaurants and bars. In 2011, smoking was banned in city parks and beaches. During Bloomberg’s tenure in office, taxes on tobacco products increased and the legal age to smoke was raised from 18 to 21.

From 2002 to 2015, smoking rates declined from 21.5 percent to 14.3 percent of the population, according to a statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. Seeking to further reduce that number to 12 percent, de Blasio signed a package of legislation on Aug. 28, 2017, which aims to reduce the number of smokers in the city by 160,000 by 2020, the statement added.

Raising prices on tobacco products, capping the number of tobacco retailers and increasing fees for tobacco retail licenses, and banning the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies are a few of the initiatives that de Blasio has signed into law.

“If it can go through, I think it would be great,” Liliane Salama, 65, said of Koo’s legislation. “I find it very offensive when people [are] smoking and polluting the air, and I often either avoid them or just hold by breath to try to avoid the toxic fumes.”

The bill has not yet been reviewed by the Committee on Health, according to Jake Sporn, spokesman for Mark Levine, the committee’s chair. It remains unclear when a hearing for the legislation will be scheduled.

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