Guest Post: A New Yorker’s Response to Smoke-Free Park Scofflaws

Foreword by New York Dad

When I decided on posting this guest post by Steve I was very transparent with him in saying that I myself indulge a few times a year in a cigar on special occasions, but as an ex-smoker myself and a parent I can appreciate the post and am onboard with the idea of keeping smoke away from children. I am by no means a harasser of smokers, but as a parent I do find it annoying when someone lights up next to my son even in the open air, if for no other reason than the fact that he turns to me and says it smells “yucky yucky” (among so many other offending smells in this city!). I myself must go through a cleansing routine similar to a HazMat scrub the couple of times I come back from a cigar bar and my wife has me bag my clothing and hoses me down like a prisoner before I can put a foot inside the door – and I really do not mind it at all.  I do believe that there are plenty of appropriate venues and there is plenty of space that anyone who wants to smoke can do so and without it being a terrible imposition. It is just a matter of looking around you and making sure that there are no kids and that you are not puffing onto the person next to you. Now if only we could force everyone to take a shower before riding public transportation…

A New Yorker’s Response to Smoke-Free Park Scofflaws

A second weekend of smoke-free parks and beaches has passed, a welcome and healthy change for my son Ben, 14 months, and my wife and I.  Out at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, our city’s second largest park, neighboring picnickers had replaced smoking with good-natured grumbling – and while leaving we saw a steady trickle of smokers with unlit cigarettes hanging from their mouths headed towards the park’s periphery.

I wasn’t surprised by the good compliance we saw, despite the recent noise made by the opposition. Why? At World Lung Foundation we have seen this pattern play out time and again with new smoke-free laws of all sorts and in dozens of countries.

Smokers are no different from nonsmokers – they obey laws and care about the health of others. While any law that impacts personal behavior meets some initial resistance, smokers tend to comply when they understand the rationale. So New York’s well-publicized approach will succeed – as similar laws have in municipalities in California and the UK – because New Yorkers understand that any level of exposure to secondhand smoke is a health hazard.

Of course there are attention-seekers who want to make noise (like the ridiculous public pipe-cigar-cigarette “smoking hat-trick” protest) and even tobacco industry-prodded organizations that want to formally weaken the law.  But the silent majority of New Yorkers, including smokers and non-smokers and fathers like me, want a healthier city. We respect each other and will follow the law.

So I applaud those who made the short trip to the edge of any New York park or beach to indulge in their habit.  And to those who flout the law, we shouldn’t rely just on enforcement but should speak out for our right to clean air. My personal approach is to remind our smoking neighbors that, if they think it’s tough in New York, they should be thankful they don’t live in Nairobi, where smokers have not only been driven off the streets, out of the parks and off the beaches; they’ve also been driven into public smoking pens!


Steve Hamill is the Associate Director of Communications and Advocacy at World Lung Foundation, an international public health organization dedicated to reversing the global health epidemic of lung disease. He, his wife, and their son Benjamin live in Brooklyn.