Great Neck Village trustees voted this week to ban smoking on sidewalks along most of the main thoroughfare, something only a handful of other municipalities have done.
Depending on who's asked, the new law is A. trailblazing, B. Orwellian or C. unenforceable, because the village has no police force and its two parking enforcement officers and five building inspectors don't have time to patrol for illegal smokers.
Great Neck Mayor Ralph J. Kreitzman, a former smoker, said the ban grew out of complaints from two business owners that secondhand smoke was upsetting their customers.
"People were smoking in front of their doors and when the doors opened, the smoke went into their stores," he said. "What we are trying to do here is make the quality of life for the majority of residents and businesspeople better."
The law, which went into effect Wednesday, prohibits smoking tobacco and other substances on sidewalks along or within 125 feet of Middle Neck Road in front of commercial establishments, the Village Green Park and the Village Housing Authority. The enforcement area stretches 1.3 miles. The ban also precludes smoking at benches in municipal parking lots with access to Middle Neck Road and within 10 feet around them.
The penalty is left to the discretion of a judge, who can fine a violator up to $1,000 or order up to 15 days in jail, Kreitzman said.
Great Neck Village already prohibits smoking in parks and municipal buildings. More than 200 municipalities across New York and about a half-dozen on Long Island have laws that restrict smoking in parks and on public beaches.
Sung Ho Cho, who owns Great Neck Cleaners, said he long had trouble with people smoking outside his shop before he approached the mayor about a ban. "My customers complain," Cho said. "They hate the smoke smell." Now, he said, "I'm happy."
But village resident Elizabeth Allen said the law wasn't going to improve anything.
"All we're going to get from this is a litter of new street signs," she said. "It invites a certain sidewalk confrontation that's unpleasant under any circumstance."
Allen and village resident David Zielenziger argued against the law at a December public meeting. "The county doesn't give us enough police officers and the village has problems enforcing its code already," he said Wednesday.
Village Attorney Stephen G. Limmer said enforcing the ban "will take some time," starting with posting signs in no-smoking areas and having business owners let smokers know about the ban. After that, parking enforcement officers and building inspectors would be responsible.
Carol Meschkow, Nassau Project Coordinator for Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island, an anti-smoking advocacy group, consulted with the trustees as they prepared the ordinance and Wednesday called Kreitzman a "trailblazer."
Berkeley, Calif., instituted the first sidewalk smoking ban in 2008.
Business owners along Middle Neck Road offered mixed opinions about the new law.
"It's a bit much," said Benny Rafail, owner of Benny's Barber Shop. "Since I'm a smoker, I think it's a little outrageous, but maybe they're trying to make people happy."
Sabah Tsvi Dallal, an owner of Amal Deli, favors the ban. He quit smoking 25 years ago and although he said he did not have any issues with smoke coming into his shop, he thought the law was a good one. "We can keep the village clean," he said.
That would be cleanliness at the expense of freedom, according to Audrey Silk, head of the New York City-based smoker's rights group, Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harrassment.
"This is a case of feel-good legislation . . . It begs to be ignored, for everybody's sake," she said.
"If you love freedom, if you love what this country stands for, non-smokers should be out there smoking with the smokers in protest."
With Gary Dymski