The Great Times Square 'Butt' Out

There'll be no more lighting up in Times Square.

Mayor Bloomberg announced plans yesterday to dramatically expand the city's smoking ban to huge swaths of government-controlled outdoor spaces, including the heavily trafficked pedestrian plaza at the Crossroads of the World.

The mayor cited a Health Department study released last year that found 57 percent of non-smoking New Yorkers had elevated levels of a chemical in their blood that is associated with nicotine, compared to 45 percent nationwide.

"That means huge numbers of New Yorkers are essentially smoking against their will," said Dr. Tom Farley, the health commissioner.

"We have to do something about this, because even out in the open air second-hand smoke can be dangerous," declared Bloomberg.

The new ban would affect all 1,700 parks, 14 miles of beaches, city-owned golf courses and marinas, as well as pedestrian plazas like those in Times Square.

It would take effect 90 days after the mayor signs it into law, following public hearings and approval by the City Council.

That seems a foregone conclusion since Council Speaker Christine Quinn stood with the mayor at the press conference and then fielded questions after Bloomberg darted out of City Hall to catch a jet to Washington, DC.

Quinn stressed that not all smoking would be prohibited in Times Square since sidewalks would still be fertile puffing grounds.

"You can walk up and down Eighth Avenue, across 42nd Street, smoking to your heart's content," she said. "But you can't sit at one of those little tables right next to me at another little table and smoke, and therefore I have to ingest your smoke. "The point of this bill isn't 'gotcha.' "
One official said the fine would be $50, although it could go as high as $250.

But everyone involved insisted that revenue -- including the $87.3 million the city collected last year in cigarette taxes -- was never considered in drafting the law.

"It would be wonderful if we didn't have any tobacco-tax revenue," the mayor told a reporter who asked about the impact on tax collections. "Why can't you get that through your mind?"

Smokers were burning mad when told they soon wouldn't be able to light up in pedestrian plazas.
"People have a right to smoke, and it's another product that you buy and should be able to use, so it's a little fascist by Bloomberg again," said Karlyn Daigle, 22, a student from the Upper East Side, at Herald Square yesterday.

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