Kudos to New York City for planning to expand its smoke-free indoor air law to include outdoor spaces. Thousands of communities have 100% smoke-free indoor air laws, and many of those now have or are considering laws that expand protections to outdoor places where people gather or work, such as parks, beaches and dining areas.
In fact, 400 U.S. cities and Puerto Rico already have smoke-free parks laws in effect; 82 cities, the state of Maine, and Puerto Rico have smoke-free beach laws. An additional 158 cities and three states (Hawaii, Iowa and Maine) have smoke-free outdoor dining. Smoke-free outdoor spaces are quickly becoming the national norm, and we have the science and public support to continue moving in this direction.
Fueling interest in outdoor laws is the growing body of science on the negative health effects of secondhand smoke exposure outdoors and the environmental effects of cigarettes and toxic cigarette butts. In 2006, the California Air Resources Board classified secondhand smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant and called it “an air pollutant which may cause or contribute to an increase in deaths or in serious illness.”
Additional research demonstrates that individuals with compromised cardiovascular systems might be at risk from brief exposures to secondhand smoke, even outside. People spending time outdoors near smokers over multiple hours, such as waitresses or dinner guests, can receive exposure that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit on fine particulate matter pollution.
Cigarette butts are the leading source of pollution in parks and beaches. An estimated 1.69 billion pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash each year. Cigarette filters are made from a plastic that can break into smaller pieces but will never biodegrade or disappear. This substance persists in the environment and is toxic to fish, birds, wildlife and pets, not to mention small children.
We applaud New York City for working to eliminate toxic contaminants and trash from parks and beaches, and expect to see more cities follow suit.
Cynthia Hallett is executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
September 18, 2009 in USA TODAY