NYC's Outdoor Smoking Ban: A Minor Victory for Runners

May 24th 2011

It's official, fellow oxygen lovers: We are one full day into New York City's ban on smoking in most outdoor places.

CNN.com explains the new law thusly:

The law, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed in February after it was passed by the New York City Council, will make smoking illegal in New York City's 1,700 parks and on the city's 14 miles of public beaches. Smoking will also be prohibited in pedestrian plazas like Times Square.

The ban is designed to help curb exposure to secondhand smoke as well as reduce litter.

And also notes that:

New York City follows in the footsteps of 105 municipalities (in states including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey) that have banned smoking on public beaches, according to data from the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Major cities include Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Seattle.

I've been following this story pretty closely, because I happen to be:

  1. a former resident of New York City (and still an occasional visitor);
  2. a runner; and
  3. one of those persnickety people who finds cigarette smoke not just annoying, but vile.

Most of the reaction to NYC's new law has been predictable: Anti-smoking advocates applaud it as an overdue step toward better health for all; some smokers shrug and move on; others sputter about Nazi Germany.

I won't surprise you to hear that I'm a supporter of the ban. I'm also waiting for a similar law to trickle down to Allentown, Pa., my current hometown — a fantasy that I indulged Saturday morning during a long run in the Lehigh River Parkway, which happened to be hosting a fishing tournament that day. (Do they hand out cartons of smokes along with those hip waders and foam coolers? Jeez.)

At the same time, I am curious to see where exactly the smokers will go next. When smoking was banned in workplaces, commercial aircraft, and movie theaters, smokers flocked outside. Now — some places in some cities, anyway — they can't smoke there, either.

Maybe we can limit public smoking to specially outfitted cherry picker trucks that would drive around like taxis and pick smokers up (literally) to puff away 30 or 40 feet above the ground?

Hey, it could happen. And my local government could prohibit camo-clad folks from standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the Parkway running path and belching smoke all morning.

I'm not holding my breath.