September 9, 2008

City of Ithaca Considers Banning Smoking in Many Outdoor Areas

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25,500 deaths in New York State every year are attributed smoking, according to the City of Ithaca’s Resolution: Support for Tobacco-Free Zones and Other Voluntary Steps to Reduce Smoking.
Citing this statistic as one reason to support tobacco-free zones, the Ithaca Common Council’s En­vironment and Neighborhood Quality Committee considered legislation in July 2007 for smoke-free outdoor public spaces.
Currently, a subcommittee of the Community and Organ­izational Issues Committee is considering setting smoking restrictions on several public spaces, including playgrounds, city-owned parks, the area within 25 feet of public building entrances and — most recently — the “inner T” of the Commons.
Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward), alderperson on Ithaca’s Common Council, has participated in 10 meetings to discuss the locations that would be affected by a tobacco-free ordinance.
“The Inner T,” he specified, “is not the entire [space] in the Commons.”
According to Myrick the smoking ban would extend to the center part of the Commons and would cover outdoor food vendors, outdoor tables and one of five pavilions. People would still be able to smoke in the other four pavilions and the rest of the space on the Commons.
Furthermore, Myrick said, the law would be entirely “complaint-driven.” Ithaca would not dispatch police to monitor the areas where smoking was banned, but would rather act only if an individual reported a violation. Violations would be penalized with fines.
“[Smoking] is a public health issue [because] an individual should always have the right to breathe clean air. An individual has the right to smoke as long as it doesn’t interfere with [that right],” he said.
When asked about her view on the potential smoking ban in public places, Erin Malley ’11 said, “I would definitely support that 100 percent. I get peeved when people smoke around me.”
Regarding a potential violation of civil liberties, non-smoker Brenhin Keller ’10 said, “If [the smoking is] not on public property it’s not infringing on individual rights, but public property belongs to everyone.”
Abby Secovnie ’09, a smoker, said, “I would completely understand.”
As a NYS resident, Secovnie is accustomed to abiding by the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2003, Public Health Law Section 1339-o, which prohibits smoking in public and work places to protect employees and the public from secondhand smoke.
“Since smoking is already banned in restaurants, this seems the next logical step,” Secovnie explained.
“I would be upset if smoking at Cornell was banned,” she added, “because I would have to walk to and from campus to smoke.”
However, smokers do not need to worry — yet.
According to Cornell’s official policy on smoking, “individuals are prohibited from smoking or carrying lighted cigars, cigarettes or pipes in any indoor facilities, enclosed bus stops and University-owned or controlled vehicles, as well as within 25 feet of the entrance to any University-owned or controlled building.”
“Cornell is not technically public property,” Myrick explained, so the law’s potential impact would not apply to the University’s private spaces.
Ryan Gomez ’09, a smoker, has followed this issue extensively. “The [Common Council’s] ground proposal is okay, so far,” he said.
However, he expressed discontent at the “complaint-driven” enforcement policy.
“Do we really want a culture where we are ratting each other out?” he said. “Whether the law is passed or not, people will still smoke. People are not easily swayed. All they’re doing is declaring that more people will be unlawful.”
According to Myrick, the ordinance is about one month away from completion, and then it will become open for public debate.