KISSENA PARK, Queens (PIX11) — Anybody who smokes while they’re just outside of a New York City public park or playground would be breaking the law if a new bill that’s now before the City Council passes. If it does, though, how it would be enforced is not fully clear.
The measure, introduced by Councilmember Sandra Ung from District 20 in Queens, is intended to expand on the law that’s already in place. It forbids anyone smoking inside a New York City Parks Department public facility. That would expand, under Ung’s proposed bill, to include sidewalks immediately outside of a park or playground.
In Kissena Park, a popular destination in Ung’s district, many people enjoyed the cool, autumnal day, including Alma Fiumano, who was taking photos. She said that she preferred to be at Kissena Park because it has fewer issues involving smoking than other parks.
“There’s everything,” she said about other locations where she’d chosen not to be on Monday morning. “There’s marijuana, there’s regular cigarettes. It’s just too much. Smoke at home.”
The bill, if enacted, is intended to encourage more people to smoke at home, as opposed to on a park’s perimeter, said Ung in an interview.
“I’ve been getting a lot of complaints,” she said. “When kids are playing inside the parks, they’re smelling smoke, not just regular smoke. Now, there’s recreational drugs, right? They’re smelling that smell when they’re playing.”
That smell, said Ung, was coming from smokers outside parks where children play.
Her bill would change the current law, which says, “Smoking is allowed on sidewalks outside parks, including sidewalks that form the perimeter of parks.”
However, said Geoffrey Croft, the former director of NYC Parks Advocates. Under his leadership of the parkgoers’ advocacy organization, he helped to craft the current law banning smoking in city parks.
“I think that it’s a fine idea, but we’re not enforcing the original smoking ban, which is a problem,” he said about the proposal.
The ban inside parks has been in place since 2011. Now, though, when PIX11 News pointed out its existence to parkgoers like Alma Fiumano, her response was representative of others.
“I didn’t know that,” she said.
Ung said that part of the reason she’s introduced her bill is to make the smoking band top of mind for more New Yorkers. She also noted that, in contrast to the park advocates’ claims, the city administrative code allows the NYPD and Parks Enforcement to issue citations for smoking inside a park.
Having more people aware of the illegality of smoking in park facilities, as well as in the areas around the parks, Ung said, empowers them.
“It is the right of a resident, a right as a parent,” she said, “to say to somebody that it’s illegal. They’re not making it up. They can say it’s illegal to smoke around parks.”
Still, some anti-smoking parkgoers were skeptical about the proposed new measure being taken seriously.
“I don’t think people will follow that,” said Sushma Karki as she enjoyed the fall foliage from a bench in Kissena Park. When asked why not, she responded, “Because it’s a free country.”
The Parks Department said on its website that parkgoers like Karki will enforce the no-smoking laws.
The law “will be enforced mostly by New Yorkers themselves,” the website reads. “We expect that New Yorkers will ask people to follow the law and stop smoking. This is how similar laws have worked in other places, including Chicago and Los Angeles. However, people who violate the new law could receive a $50 ticket.”
For this story specifically, the Parks Department released a statement:
Our Parks Enforcement Patrol officers’ first course of action is to educate parkgoers on our rules before issuing a summons or citation. Our parks have long been smoke-free and remain so.