News travels fast in these globalised times, but not so fast that New York’s latest smoking ban covering all its 1 700 parks and 22km of beaches had reached Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province in China. Just hours after the new prohibition came into force, Fan Yon Tao, Nanjing resident and New York tourist, stood at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park nonchalantly puffing on a Marlboro.
Yon Tao promptly stubbed out the cigarette and carefully placed it in a litter bin when informed by the Guardian that he had just performed an unlawful act liable to a $50 fine. “No smoking! Good, good!”, he exclaimed in rudimentary English.
No smoking good, even though he smokes?
“Yes! No smoking good! I want to stop!”
The extension of the New York smoke-free air act is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s biggest clampdown on smoking since he banned the habit from restaurants and bars in 2002. It forms the latest step in an ever lengthening litany of health measures that most New Yorkers have approved, though some have decried as turning their beloved city into a nanny state.
On the back of the 2002 ban have come the outlawing of trans fats from restaurants, an obligation on fast food chains to reveal the calorie count of their meals, and attempts to persuade food manufacturers to cut back on salt.
The city council claims great victories on the back of these and other initiatives. On smoking, the number of New Yorkers who smoke has fallen by about 350 000 since 2002, though the number of smokers remains at almost a million adults and 18 000 teenagers.
The new ban puts New York back at the top of the league of major US cities with tough health laws. Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco all have restrictions on smoking in parks, though Bloomberg’s will be the toughest yet.
Under its terms, you may not smoke in: any of the cities parks, including Central and Prospect Parks; pedestrian plazas, such as Times and Herald Squares; beaches and boardwalks; golf courses; and sporting stadiums.
The good news, judging from an hour’s stroll through Central Park in the first few hours of the new smoking ban, is that not many people are minded to smoke in outdoor spaces in any case. Yon Tao was the only person in the park spotted with a cigarette in hand.
Most people seemed delighted by the new restriction, even those like Josiah (20) from Iowa, who described himself as a social smoker. “I guess I’m not bothered. Everyone should be able to enjoy the park without smoke in their faces.”
Mohammed Matin (51) was selling hot dogs at the Central Park Mall. A new sign has just been posted opposite his cart that proclaims: “No smoking in the Park” (it’s written in English, Spanish and Chinese though Yon Tao obviously hadn’t seen it).
Matin said he thought the ban a good thing to protect children from harm, but he feared its impact on his business. “The kind of people who want to come to relax and smoke and drink in the park, they aren’t going to come any more.”
Bloomberg has been careful to avoid upsetting the New York police by absolving them of any responsibility for imposing the new ban. Instead, enforcement will be left to park officials and New Yorkers themselves. “We expect that New Yorkers will ask people to follow the law and stop smoking,” City Hall says.
But some New Yorkers are sceptical that self-enforcement will work. Lee Wilson (65) out walking his mutt on Sheep Meadow, said he approved of the ban but strongly doubted that any resident of the city would voluntarily do anything to make it stick. “New Yorkers are kind of unusual that way. I can’t see any New Yorker telling another New Yorker to stop smoking because of the ban. We’re not made that way.”
Would he tell anyone?
“No, I wouldn’t, even though I support it. I’m not a vigilante.”
Bloomberg’s ever toughening approach to public health has prompted objections from pro-smoker and libertarian groups. New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, or Clash for short, is to hold a symbolic “smoke-in-the-park” along the boardwalk at Brighton Beach, near Coney Island, on Saturday. “We will pay the new law the respect it deserves: none,” said the group’s leader Audrey Silk.
She accused Bloomberg of having hoodwinked the city with half-truths, such as a figure used by City Hall that 57% of non-smoking New Yorkers show signs of exposure to cigarettes.
“Exposure doesn’t translate into harm,” Silk said. “That’s like saying people who got wet in the rain today are at risk of drowning.” – guardian.co.uk