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Smokers' rights group fights no-smoking rule

ALBANY -- A smokers' rights group is objecting to a new rule that will prohibit smokers from using New York state's parks, pools areas and beaches and historic sites as ash trays.

The anti-smoking rule created in April by the state parks department would result in a disorderly conduct violation for smokers who puff away in banned areas. Smoking will be allowed in some areas. Signs telling park visitors of the new rule have been posted.

"These bans were imposed by bureaucratic fiat, not legislated law," says Audrey Silk, founder of CLASH, which supports smokers' rights nationwide. "On that basis alone, they're unconstitutional." She said the rule "in fact went against the legislature's will."

Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the parks department, said the authority to create the measure comes from the legislature. He said state parks and recreation law allows the agency to take action to protect the welfare and safety of the public.

"Creating designated smoke-free zones in state parks will ensure that millions of people who visit these sites each year will be able to enjoy outdoor activities in a safe and healthy environment," state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said last month.

Smoke-free areas will be around all playgrounds and swimming pools and can include swimming beaches, pavilions and picnic shelters, gardens, outdoor seating areas near food or drink concessions, and anywhere outdoor environmental education programs are provided. The measure also bans smoking in the state's parks in New York City, including Riverbank, Roberto Clemente, East River, Clay Pit Ponds, Gantry Plaza and Bayswater.

New York City already bans smoking in parks and at beaches, boardwalks and public plazas and is stepping up enforcement with more than 100 tickets issued so far this year.

The city ban carries a $50 fine.

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