News: NYC Council Bans Outdoor Smoking
(Long Island, N.Y.)New York City Council members decided to ban outdoor cigarette smoking in a 36 to 12 vote that will be put in effect in ninety days. This will extend to over 1700 parks and includes the 843 acres of NYC's historic Central Park. It will also cover fourteen miles of beaches and large areas of Times Square.
The reason for the ban is to limit the health hazards of secondhand smoke to people and the environment. The fines will be $50, making NYC the third city to fine outdoor smoking along with San Francisco and Chicago. Great Neck, Long Island has supported the ban by prohibiting smoking on public sidewalks.
In 2002 smoking was banned in bars and restaurants across New York; approximately seventeen other states also enforce a similar ban. According to proponents of the ban, limitations on smoking have resulted in 350,000 fewer smokers and an average of nineteen months added to New Yorkers' lifespan.
Currently, 21% of Americans admit to smoking, and there are still more male than female smokers. There are over a million smokers who walk on NYC streets daily. Statistics from 2009 show that while 15.8% of adults smoke in New York State, only 8.4% of high school students pick up the habit.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 5 million deaths are caused worldwide from tobacco products. That number is projected to increase to 8 million by 2030, and the highest increase in habitual smoking will occur in poor and developing countries. Twenty-six countries take some form of ban on the Internet advertising of tobacco products. In 1987 the WHO organized a "No Tobacco Day" on May 31st.
Not surprisingly, the ban has already caused a considerable uproar across the tri-state area. NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH) has already announced an intended Smoke-In at the City Hall Park sometime in May. On the same day that the world is set to campaign for anti-tobacco measures, thousands of smokers across the city could be gathering with cigarettes in hand to fight for their individual rights.
New York, along with Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington has limited the exchange of tobacco on the Internet to registered dealers in order to prevent the selling of products to minors. The Internet attracts purchasers of tobacco by dropping the excessive sales tax. Statistics show that 24,100 Americans under the age of 18 become smokers each year. Reports have shown that the steep price of cigarettes - well over $10/pack in most parts of the city - is the number one factor in hindering kids from smoking. Tax on an average pack of cigarettes in New York State is $4.35 and $5.85 in New York City.
Proponents for the ban claim that the high price of cigarettes is intended to prevent people from smoking, however the term used to label cigarettes in basic economics is called an "inelastic good." The definition of an inelastic good is something that can have a drastic increase in price while retaining the same level of demand. In plainer terms, people are going to want cigarettes regardless of what's done to stop them. Tobacco marketing will always have an audience, and tobacco products will always be a huge money-maker for the economy.
As a result, there is a clear conflict of interest in the minds of policymakers. If health was the only issue, then why haven't officials done more to ban tobacco producers rather than users? The cost of healthcare is certainly a factor; non-smoking taxpayers shed out money for Medicaid and other insurance companies for the healthcare of smokers. Research has shown that people with lower incomes are more likely to smoke, amplifying this result. Nonetheless, this can be solved by another matter of economics: if the costs of the effects of smoking outweigh the revenue collected from cigarette tax, then the ban would have much more of a cushion to stand on.
Many opponents of the ban claim that this is not the case, and that more taxpayer dollars are going to be spent enforcing the law. Air pollution, GMOs, pesticides, and harmful diesel fumes do more to jeopardize the health of New Yorkers than the minimal effects of second-hand smoke. Likewise, the amount of harm from littering cigarette butts is minimal compared to the littering from empty refreshments and food wrappings. Also, it's much more dangerous to smoke inside the home where smoking is legal; this ban does nothing to protect children born to indoor-smoking families.
Another question to ask: how is New York City, often seen as a world capital, going to look in the eyes of European and other nations that take more liberal stances on public smoking? The long time argument is that there are fewer issues with teen drinking in countries where the legal age is lower; many say the same thing can be applied to smoking. How much will the ban simply attract kids, appealing to their natural, youthful rebelliousness and media-driven messages that say it's cool to smoke?
During a national and local recession, the last thing that makes sense is removing incentive for people to visit and invest money in New York tourist spots. Research should be conducted in parts of the country where smoking is still permitted in restaurants/bars to compare figures with those that indicate the amount of people suffering from tobacco-related ailments in New York City. The results would be a rough way to measure the overwhelming contribution of the city's air pollution to health problems blamed on second-hand smoke.
Lastly, it's important to note that obesity has surpassed smoking as the number one cause of preventable death. Nonetheless, criticizing people for smoking is more socially accepted than criticizing people for being obese. Until more is done to ban and tax the factors of obesity, many smokers argue that they shouldn't be as targeted.
The current ban does nothing to consider the vast amount of social smokers who enjoy stepping outside a bar with friends after a couple of drinks, nor does it speak to the people who smoke when driving for extended periods of time in high-traffic/stress situations. Think about what would happen to the number of road rage accidents if the NYC Council proposed to take their car smokes away.
February 4, 2011 5:21 PM Eastern
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