August 18, 2011
Post Star

GLENS FALLS — Jeff Steves was among a group of young adults that were smoking cigarettes in Glens Falls City Park on Tuesday afternoon, about 40 feet from a sign that states smoking in the park is prohibited.

Steves, a 23-year-old from Fort Edward, said that when he was smoking in City Park the evening before, a Glens Falls Police officer approached him and told him that smoking is prohibited in the park and a new local law taking effect soon would have stiff penalties for smoking in the park.

Steves on Tuesday said he intended to keep smoking in City Park until the new law took effect.

“Well, it’s not in effect yet,” Steves said, speaking with a Post-Star reporter.

He didn’t have long to wait.

The city announced Wednesday that the process of filing the local law with the state Department of State was complete, and the law was effective.

The law, which the city Common Council enacted Aug. 9, prohibits smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or any form of tobacco products in or on any city-owned parks, beaches, pools, recreation centers, playgrounds, outdoor stages or the sidewalks immediately adjoining such places.

The goal of the law is twofold: to protect public health and to reduce litter, said 5th Ward Councilman Bennet Driscoll.

“It cost money and man hours to go back and maintain other people’s waste,” he said.

Those convicted of violating the law can be fined up to $250 or jailed for up to 15 days or both.

A state law banning smoking in public buildings carries a steeper fine – $1,000 – but no jail time.

The new local law continues a city effort to reduce smoking in parks.

The city banned smoking in city parks about two years ago by a Common Council resolution, but there was no penalty for smoking.

City officials said they enacted a formal local law with penalties because the politely worded signs they placed in parks two years ago were being ignored.

“What we are trying to do is ensure the quality of life in our parks and recreational areas,” said Glens Falls Mayor John “Jack” Diamond.

The signs that have been up in parks for about two years state: “This is a smoke-free park. Tobacco use is not allowed. Thank you. City of Glens Falls.”

Meghan Pussafiume, who was part of the group that was smoking in City Park on Tuesday, claimed she had never noticed the no-smoking signs in several places in City Park.

“I haven’t seen them,” she said.

Pussafiume, 20, from Hudson Falls, said that instead of prohibiting smoking outright in parks, the city should have designated smoking areas.

But that would still leave open the possibility of secondhand smoke being blown outside the designated area, said Julie Wright, program coordinator for the Tobacco Cessation Center of Glens Falls Hospital.

“There’s no safe level of secondhand smoke,” she said.

Children with asthma and adults with health complications can be particularly vulnerable.

“We know that it can trigger an asthma attack,” she said. “We know that somebody can smell a cigarette and it affects the blood vessels. And that can trigger a heart attack or a stroke.”

Pussafiume, the Hudson Falls woman, said the threat of getting arrested would keep her from smoking in City Park, but she planned to stop smoking anyway because she is pregnant.

City officials said they don’t expect any actual arrests to be made under the law.

The main thrust is to make their education efforts more effective with the threat of arrest.

“It’s not our priority to go out and chase around people who are smoking. However, we felt we needed something with a little teeth in it,” Diamond said.

“I don’t think that (City Court) judges Tarantino or Hobbs are going to be seeing any smoking violators in their court. … Again, our job is to educate,” Driscoll said.

Diamond said Assistant City Attorney Karen Judd wrote the local law, with the language and penalties based on similar smoking bans in other municipalities.

Judd was away from the office and unavailable to comment this week, said an associate at her office.

More than 300 municipalities in New York have prohibited smoking, either by resolution or formal law, at some or all parks, according the American Cancer Society.

In Warren County, smoking is prohibited at all parks, playgrounds, outdoor recreation facilities and beaches in Glens Falls, Queensbury and Lake George village, and at beaches in Bolton.

In Washington County, smoking is prohibited at all parks, playgrounds, outdoor recreational facilities and beaches in Whitehall and Fort Edward, and at Derby Park in Hudson Falls.

A Post-Star review of other Glens Falls local laws found that the penalties of the new smoking ban are the same as a local law banning open burning. Driscoll said he was uncertain whether that is coincidental.

Maximum penalties for violating the city’s noise ordinance, nuisance abatement law or building code are all steeper than the new smoking law.

Someone convicted of a building code violation, for example, can be sentenced to up to a year in jail.

Public health advocates have praised the city’s new smoking ban.

“Despite all the buzz and hyperbole, smoking in a public park is not a right or symbol of freedom. It’s a toxic activity that can cause harm to everyone,” Blair Horner, vice president of advocacy for the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Post-Star.

Wright, of Glens Falls Hospital, said the health risk isn’t just with the smoke itself, but also with children seeing people smoking.

“If you reduce the amount of modeled behavior that they see … it does significantly reduce the chance that they will grow up and become smokers,” she said.

If the city is going to prohibit smoking in parks, it makes sense to have enforcement measures, said Daniel Burke, chairman of the Glens Falls Business Improvement District board.