Members of Council and of the Committees, thank you for this opportunity to address the proposed ban on smoking in pedestrian plazas and public parks within New York City. I represent Cigar Rights of America, a national advocacy organization for cigar enthusiasts, with partners in the manufacturing and retail tobacconist sectors, as well.
In a national context, the State of New York and New York City specifically ranks among our largest areas for membership, as our members patron some of great cigar shops in the world, right here in New York City.
We would submit that this proposal is based more upon political hype and public relations zeal, than on scientific evidence and a true concern for the public health. It’s a brand of ‘flavor of the month politics,’ that seeks to divert attention from the actual pressing issues of the day for citizens in New York City.
In a public health context, this proposal will not prevent one case of cancer, one case of asthma, one heart attack, or prevent one person from partaking in perfectly legal tobacco products. It is advocated by a city Health Department that used public funds to produce a pamphlet on how to safely use heroin. This is a clear case of misplaced priorities.
I realize how these types of proposals sound like motherhood and apple pie; that it’s all for the good of the general public; and that it somehow makes a governing body sound as if it is being ‘progressive.’ In fact, you would be making bad public policy, based upon questionable science, without a thorough review of all studies surrounding such issues, which provide a more objective view of tobacco use, and outdoor smoking more specifically.
There are others that have. We highlight the City of Athens, Georgia. As they considered an outdoor smoking ban, they learned that no peer review study existed. They consulted with the University of Georgia-Athens, and its renowned environmental health sciences department.
The head of that department stated regarding exposure to outdoor second hand smoke, “Is this of public health concern? Do these levels pose a risk? We haven’t answered that yet.” Based upon that, the local governing body stated that it would not be tackling the issue without more evidence.
We would also point to the analysis within the journal of Toxicology and Pharmacology, which stated regarding Mainstream and Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS): “It should be clear that the seemingly insurmountable difficulties in measuring ETS exposures and doses, unresolved classification bias, and the inability to control for numerous independent confounders explain the inconsistency of weak ETS epidemiologic results and speak against the scientifically credible conclusions about a risk that, if real at all, remains imponderable.” [Report Submitted for the Record.]
Or, the British Medical Journal submitted analysis, which stated, “The association between environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.” [Report submitted for the Record.]
Or, the report of the Congressional Research Service which concluded, at best, that further analysis is needed before any credible policies can be objectively developed, as it cited the two largest U.S. studies on this subject, where within these reports, one found a single case of positive risk that was barely statistically significant, and the other no risk at all.” [Report submitted for the Record.]
And, the view of Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health, where he recently stated regarding this very proposal, “The argument does not extend to wide open spaces like Central Park and hundreds of other large parks in New York City where there is plenty of room for nonsmokers to walk away from someone who is smoking.” [Article submitted for the Record.]
But let’s take the health debate out of the equation. What about the question of basic fairness to those which decide to use perfectly legal tobacco products, such as cigars, outdoors? Many of these are residents, taxpayers, voters, or travelers and tourists that contribute to the city economy, just like anyone else. Should they not have the same access and ability to use these public resources, while enjoying legal products, and behaving within the bounds of existing law? Of course they should.
In this vain, we would hope you would consider the position and recent action of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he vetoed a virtually identical piece of legislation, in a state not known for being ‘tobacco friendly.’ For a proposal that also would have banned smoking in public parks and upon public beaches, the Governor stated, “There is something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of the state encroaching in such a broad manner on the people…”
The proposed ordinance states that the Department of Parks and Recreation shall have the power to enforce the policy. From a purely public safety context, if Parks and Recreation staff have such ‘police powers’ and as actual New York City police officers patrol in Times Square where smoking would become illegal, I would much rather their minds be on identifying a Faisal Shahzad, than a pedistrian with a cigar. Again, a case of misplaced priorities.
If a policy at all is to be considered, then let’s find some common ground. First, we believe this entire proposal should be defeated, but we also know that governing should be the art of compromise. Smoking should not be allowed around children, so establish non-smoking areas near playgrounds, where those under age frequent. Forcing the “coralling” of smokers into an isolated area only exacerbates such problems, and also forces those that enjoy legal tobacco products onto the city’s already crowded sidewalks.
Your consideration of these sentiments and submitted documents is appreciated. We hope you defeat the proposal, or at least, consider options that take into account the needs and wishes of all – all – New Yorkers, and those that enjoy this great city.