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Editorial: More fresh air at New York parks

A smoker puffs away at Tompkins Square Park

A smoker puffs away at Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan in 2009 before New York City banned smoking in its parks. (Sept. 15, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

Anyone out for some fresh air throughout New York's vast park system deserves a smoke-free environment -- not one clouded with someone else's cancer-causing fumes.

So a new policy that creates smoke-free areas or "fresh air zones" across New York's 178 state parks and 35 historic sites is most welcome. The goal is to encourage healthy living and protect people who don't light up, especially children.

Under new rules announced last week, smoking will be prohibited in specific areas at state beaches, pools and playgrounds, as well as other populated areas like concession stands, picnic shelters and building entranceways. But there won't be an outright ban within the 330,000-acre park system -- that's not realistic or enforceable. Instead, these reasonable changes balance the rights of smokers and nonsmokers.

The rules, which go into effect after signs are posted in the coming weeks, are about reducing the secondhand smoke that park-goers breathe within areas at Jones Beach, Robert Moses, Montauk Downs and Heckscher state parks. Six state parks in New York City will also have smoke-free areas.

The policy shift follows one in New York City, which last year banned smoking at its 1,700 parks and beaches, as well as in hundreds of municipalities across the country that have approved similar measures.

No doubt critics will say this is more nanny-state overreach or that it's pointless, given that the parks aren't confined spaces. But taking in secondhand smoke while going for a hike or sitting poolside often isn't a personal choice -- it's someone else's.

Mountains of data show that inhaling another person's vice causes health problems and can lead to heart disease and respiratory issues. Secondhand smoke has been linked to asthma and ear infections in children, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Regardless of the statistics, many of us know breathing someone else's smoke isn't good for us and we just don't like it. When we hit the parks for fresh air, it's important that our fun doesn't go up in smoke.