Thursday, February 03, 2011

New York Set To Extend Smoking Ban To Beaches, Sidewalks, and Parks

Locations where smokers can light up in New York without fear of being fined continues decreasing. The City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill that would prohibit smoking in parks, beaches, boardwalks, and other public areas. It awaits Mayor Bloomberg's signature and would take effect 90 days thereafter:
By a 36-to-12 vote, the Council passed the most significant expansion of antismoking laws since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pushed to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars in 2002.

The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said the ban was an affirmation of the rights of nonsmokers. “Their health and their lives should not be negatively impacted because other people have decided to smoke,” Ms. Quinn said at a news conference.

Opponents of the bill spoke strongly against it; several members derided it as an overly broad law that would infringe on individual liberties.

“We’re moving towards a totalitarian society if in fact we’re going to have those kinds of restrictions on New Yorkers,” said Councilman Robert Jackson of Manhattan, who described himself as a marathon runner and nonsmoker.

Others said the ban would set a dangerous precedent. Councilman Daniel J. Halloran III of Queens said, “Once we pass this, we will next be banning smoking on sidewalks, and then in the cars of people who are driving minors and then in the homes.”

A compromise that would establish designated smoking areas outdoors was scuttled by Council leaders in favor of an all-out ban. The bill will become law 90 days after Mr. Bloomberg signs it, which he is expected to do this month.

“This summer, New Yorkers who go to our parks and beaches for some fresh air and fun will be able to breathe even cleaner air and sit on a beach not littered with cigarette butts,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. Enforcement of the law will fall to the Department of Parks and Recreation, which can impose $50 fines.

Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan, a longtime advocate for stricter antismoking laws, said increasing revenue for the city was not the goal.

“I’m not interested in arrests; I’m not interested in revenue,” she said. “I’m just interested in public health.”
The limitations are sure to rankle civil libertarians and those who think that the nanny state is once again going too far.

I have a more substantive criticism of the ban.

How will it affect the city's revenues? Brewer's lackadasical approach to revenues shows that she fails to grasp the repercussions of her vote on city revenues.

If the city (and New York State) rely on tobacco products taxes to help balance the budget, how exactly is banning smoking going to affect those tobacco tax revenues. It isn't going to increase revenues, that's for sure.

It's going to adversely affect the revenues, which means that the programs funded by tobacco tax revenues will be adversely affected. That means that revenues will need to come from somewhere else, or tobacco products taxes will need to be raised even more.

The New York Times reported last year that the state tax hike on cigarettes and tobacco products was expected to raise $440 million in revenue to fund health care programs, including subsidies for AIDS drugs, money for tobacco cessation programs and $71.6 million for the state cancer research center in Buffalo.

If smokers are not lighting up - and they're not purchasing as many packs of cigarettes, then the revenues are going to fall short of what's necessary to fund those programs. The state and city cynically need smokers to balance the budget, so passing bills that reduce where smokers can continue to light up will affect the state's bottom line.

And when the revenues don't meet expectations, watch for more cigarette tax hikes to cover the shortfalls.

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