Assembly members Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) and Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) are backing a bill introduced earlier this month by Rockland County Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) that would prohibit smoking in all LIRR and Metro-North Railroad ticketing, boarding and waiting areas.
“It’s a good idea because secondhand smoke is a cancer causer,” Weisenberg recently told the Herald. “[We need this] to protect the public, to protect our children from being exposed to smoke.”
Jaffee called the legislation, which she introduced on Jan. 5, common sense.
“Cramped commuters deserve protections from the health hazards of second-hand smoke,” she told the Herald. “And with this bill, we’re following the lead of the MTA, which banned smoking on subway platforms but not commuter rail. This law simply improves a ban that currently protects some commuters, but not all.”
Jaffee attempted to introduce such a bill last session, but it failed to get out of committee.
“Last session, this law stalled from lack of action in the state Senate,” Jaffee said. “But since we reintroduced it this month, several senators have expressed interest in signing on, making us confident for its chances of passage this year.”
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) said he is taking a serious look at the bill.
“Anytime that we can protect individuals from secondhand smoke, it’s certainly noteworthy to take a look at the legislation,” he said, “so we’re reviewing it right now.”
Fuschillo authored the 2003 Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in virtually all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, and in public transportation facilities and vehicles. He now chairs the Senate’s Transportation Committee.
“Right now, the Legislature is consumed with the finances of the state,” Fuschillo said. “That’s really our priority right now … but we’re taking a serious look at [Jaffee’s] legislation.”
Long Island appears to be signing on to a recent trend to ban smoking in outdoor public places. The Hempstead Town Board voted in November to prohibit smoking at the town’s 100 parks, except in designated areas. In early January, the Village of Great Neck banned smoking on sidewalks in commercial areas. New York City officials are also considering prohibiting smoking at public beaches, parks and playgrounds.
“Everybody thinks this is extreme,” Weisenberg said of the trend. “It’s not extreme. Smoking kills people. It destroys the environment.”
According to the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island, a nonprofit group comprising at least 30 organizations, more than 180 municipalities in New York state have passed regulations restricting tobacco use in outdoor recreational areas.
The coalition’s director, Susan Kennedy, said the reason the trend is growing across the Island and the rest of the state is because groups like TAC and Tobacco Free NYS are working hard to disseminate information about the effects of secondhand smoke.
In its state-wide tobacco-free outdoors campaign, Tobacco Free NYS outlines the environmental and health impacts of cigarette butts and secondhand smoke, and their impact on youth. Those impacts, which were relayed to the Hempstead Town Board at a meeting last fall, were among the reasons the board voted to outlaw smoking at public parks.
“Secondhand smoke is more than just annoying — it can cause asthma attacks and even cut lives short,” said Michael Seilback, vice president of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York. “We advocated for this bill because there’s simply no place for smoking on the crowded train platforms of the LIRR and Metro-North. This bill should be passed immediately.”
Local commuters reacted to news of the possible legislation, some supporting it and others opposing it.
“I hate having to breathe in someone else’s toxic decision,” said Malverne resident Kevin Dooney. “Ban it now.”
West Hempstead resident Peter Pirro said the ban would be unfair to smokers who are already prevented from smoking indoors.
“It’s open air,” he said. “Plus, everyone should understand nicotine is an addiction. Taking that away from people when they need it the most — for example, waiting for a train — will result in a lot of unhappy commuters who need to wait across the street on their way to work so they can smoke before a long train ride.”
Pirro went on to say, “People shouldn’t be punished for smoking. It’s not a crime unless you make it one.”
The MTA declined to comment on the proposed ban.
By Lee Landor