The Albany Common Council could decide tonight to expand its smoking ban in city parks. If passed, the measure would carry a 50 dollar fine and go into effect immediately.
It is already against the law to smoke on playgrounds or ball-fields in the city. Back in 2012, the Albany Common Council approved a limited ban on smoking in areas of parks where children gather, including playgrounds, athletic fields and swimming pools.
Close to one month ago, the Albany Common Council voted unanimously to prohibit smoking inside city bus shelters. Most recently, First Ward Council Member Dorcey Applyrs introduced a local ordinance to make city parks tobacco-free. Smokers would be fined $50 should they be caught using any tobacco products in city park areas, including Washington Park and the Corning Preserve. "One of the key objectives for this legislation is reducing residents' exposure to second-hand smoke, which we know has negative health implications. Another objective of this legislation is to cut down on litter that we find in our public parks from cigarette butts, and also change social norms around smoking. Most people start smoking during their teen years. The less young people - kids and teens - see smoking, the less likely they are to pick up a cigarette," said Applyrs.
10th Ward Council member Leah Golby supports the measure, which she agrees sets an example for youth while protecting public health. She does see one drawback to the legislation: "It actually negatively impacts the people who have to be outside rather than the people who want to be outside. If you're on the sidewalk, generally you're there because you have to be there. When you're in a park you're generally there because you have some extra time. And I think the spirit of the legislation is going in the right direction, but I do have a concern about what message that sends to the people who have to use our sidewalks."
Golby adds a couple of years ago she probably would have supported a complete ban at all parks. "I cannot see myself voting against tonight's legislation."
At least one dissenting vote is expected to come from 12th Ward Councilman Mike O'Brien, who thinks the measure will be too difficult to enforce: "I think it's gonna pass. I think most people have decided that it's a good thing to do. That's my sense of it in talking to other people on the council. I'm not gonna vote for it. I don't condemn the intentions of the people who sponsor it. i think they're well-intentioned."
O'Brien says violations will likely come as "add-on" charges when someone is arrested for a more serious violation--perhaps smoking when apprehended, or seen smoking during commission of a larger crime.
Schenectady and Syracuse already have similar tobacco bans in place.
- List of smoking bans in the United States