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New Smoking Ban Proposed for NYC Parks, Beaches

New York City wants to take its tough smoking ban outdoors.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials announced Wednesday that they will pursue a broad extension of the city's smoking ban to parks, beaches, marinas, boardwalks and pedestrian plazas throughout the city.

That would mean no smoking in Central Park, no lighting up on the Coney Island boardwalk and putting the cigarettes away if you're lounging on the traffic-free Broadway pedestrian plaza in Times Square.

Officials said they are basing the proposed law on claims that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can pose health risks.

"The science is clear: prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, whether you're indoors or out, hurts your health," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Today, we're doing something about it."

States and cities from Maine to California have banned smoking in public parks and beaches, but New York is pursuing one of the most ambitious urban efforts.

The city's parks department is responsible for 14 miles of public beaches and 29,000 acres of parkland. Smoking is already banned in some parks facilities, including playgrounds, but not in most open recreational areas.

The proposed law, which must go through the City Council, would give the parks department the power to slap violators with quality-of-life summonses, which are tickets for minor offenses like panhandling or public urination. Fines can go as high as $250; the city said smoking summonses likely would be around $50.

The effort, which follows the city's 2003 ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, was hailed Wednesday by health groups, including the American Cancer Society.

A smokers' rights group, NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, recently posted a video on its website protesting the idea. The group's founder, Audrey Silk, argues that smoke dissipates quickly outdoors, where "there's room for everybody and nobody will be affected."

Council members plan to introduce the anti-smoking bill Thursday. It has to go through committee hearings before the full 51-member council can vote.

Officials cited a May 2007 Stanford University study that found a person sitting within three feet of a smoker outdoors can be exposed to levels of secondhand smoke similar to indoor levels.

And the city's health department says 57 percent of nonsmoking New Yorkers have elevated levels of cotitine, a byproduct of nicotine, in their blood. That means they were likely recently exposed to secondhand smoke in concentrations high enough to leave behind residue in the body.