“In a perfect world, every smoker would have the self-awareness to realize that smoking and walking down a crowded sidewalk subjects everyone behind you to breathing in the fumes,” City Councilman Peter Koo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we’ve all had the experience of getting stuck behind a smoker while walking down a crowded city sidewalk. If you want to smoke, stand off to the side. People can easily walk past you. But if you’re smoking and walking down the sidewalk, you’re forcing the people behind you to breathe it in.”
New York City and state already have some of the strictest anti-tobacco laws in the country, and Koo’s addition would be a new subdivision to the city administrative code, which already bans smoking on mass transit, in public restrooms and restaurants, businesses, libraries, sports arenas and gyms, zoos, bars, and parks, among other places.
“Smoking is prohibited while walking on all sidewalks under the jurisdiction of the department of transportation and any of the following locations under the jurisdiction of the department of parks and recreation,” the text of the legislation states.
In addition to the act of walking, Koo’s law would ban all smoking on pedestrian routes like medians as well as parking lots and on sidewalks adjoining public parks. Smoking while standing still in approved places would still be allowed.
Legislators who seek to restrict tobacco use in New York have allies in high places: Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that by 2020, he wants to reduce the number of smokers in the city by 160,000.
According to the mayor’s office, about 900,000 New Yorkers smoke. Last August, de Blasio introduced a legislation package that included raising the minimum price of tobacco products, adding a local tax on some products, putting restrictions on tobacco-retail licenses and putting restrictions on e-cigarette use.
Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, succeeded in January by Manhattan Democrat Corey Johnson, backed de Blasio’s bills.
“Tobacco kills thousands of New Yorkers each year and the Council is proud of the City’s role as a national leader in enacting smart, effective tobacco control policies that save lives,” she said at the time.
Johnson — who worked closely with de Blasio on the anti-smoking package — has admitted to his own see-sawing history with nicotine. A representative for his office meanwhile would not comment on Koo’s bill beyond saying that it is going through the legislative process.
A spokesman from Koo’s office said in an email Wednesday that Koo believes enforcement of the proposed law would be the same as that in the Smoke Free Air Act “but ultimately up to the discretion of police officers.”
The legislation would have been introduced Wednesday, but the meeting was delayed by Winter Storm Toby, which descended on the first day of spring.
“I’ve seen too many mothers with strollers, and parents holding hands with their children, walking behind smokers who are blowing clouds of smoke behind them,” Koo said.
“We live in a city of over 8 million people, and we all share the same sidewalks. One person’s actions impacts everyone around them.”
A spokeswoman from de Blasio’s office declined to comment Thursday other than to say the legislation is under review.