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Queens Chronicle

Judge nixes state parks smoking ban

Last week’s decision does not affect city regulation in any way

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 10:30 am

Smokers are calling it a victory, but last week’s state Supreme Court decision that overturned a ban on lighting up in state parks is expected to have little effect in Queens or the rest of the city.

State parks announced in April 2012 that it was instituting a new policy banning smoking within state parks as well as beaches, playgrounds and pools. The agency backtracked but reintroduced its plan last December.

A lawsuit, filed by CLASH, a pro-smoking organization, was filed in April, saying the ban was unconstitutional and in violation of the separation of powers.

Last week’s decision by State Supreme Court Judge George Ceresia Jr., agreed that the state Office of Parks extended its reach “beyond interstitial rulemaking and into the realm of legislating.”

The ruling will affect seven state parks in the city, including two in Queens: Gantry Plaza in Long Island City and Bayswater Point in Breezy Point.

Audrey Silk, founder of CLASH, applauded the judge’s decision. “This ban was imposed by bureaucratic fiat, not legislated law, and on that basis alone, it’s unconstitutional,” Silk said, noting that the state legislature has declined to pass anti-smoking laws for more than a decade.

The organization’s full name is Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment. Silk, of Brooklyn, founded the group in 2000.

A quote released by New York State Parks says the agency is considering an appeal of the court’s decision, adding: “State Parks has legislative authority to manage a wide variety of activities within state parks to balance often conflicting uses of our patrons. We believe this authority extends to the regulation of outdoor smoking on playgrounds, swimming pools, beaches and other locations where children and visitors congregate.”

Also unhappy about the latest decision is Phil Konigsberg of Bay Terrace, a member of the Queens Tobacco Control Coalition and a longtime opponent of public smoking. He helped lead the drive to ban smoking in city parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas starting in 2007. The city approved the measure in 2011.

“I have some concerns that people will think it applies to city parks,” Konigsberg said.“I hope the state appeals the decision.”

He believes State Parks has the right to ban smoking because the agency sets other restrictions in its parks.

The city’s smoking ban went into effect in May 2011 and unlike the state restriction, was approved by the City Council, affecting 1,700 parks and 14 miles of beaches as well as public spaces such as Times Square.

“The city won’t be affected by the state court ruling because it’s law here,” Konigsberg said. “If the state doesn’t take action, we may have to put pressure on our local state representatives.”

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