State judge: park smoking ban an overreach

Posted at: 10/11/2013 11:56 PM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - A state supreme court justice on Friday ordered New York Parks officials to tear down their "no smoking" signs, which were posted earlier this year. By siding with a smoker's rights group, Judge George Ceresia ruled the parks officials exceeded their authority when they prohibited smoking.

Even though Judge Ceresia acknowledged that secondhand smoke is "deleterious to the health of non-smokers, especially children," he also wrote it doesn't mean a state agency is empowered to regulate the conduct of park patrons.

And so, on a perfect autumn afternoon at Thacher Park, the scenic view is all of a sudden changing. When sightseers stopped by on Friday to light up their cigarettes, they may not have realized it, but they were doing it legally.

"Thank you very much judge," said James Bush, of Troy, puffing on a cigarette while sitting on a stone wall atop the Helderbergs escarpment.

Bush, and other smokers can now light up legally at state parks because earlier in the day Judge Ceresia said they could, ordering no-smoking signs to come down, because park officials, even though well-intentioned, don't have the authority to prohibit smoking, according to the judge, only the state legislature can do that.

"I understand the basis that he's using," said Terry Palumbo of Albany, "I'm not sure I agree with it. I'm disappointed smoking would be allowed. Smoking isn't a healthy thing for anyone to do or to be around."

"I think smoking should be something that's left at home or in a car or a private area," said Michael Bayley of Selkirk, "This is a public area and we should have our fresh air to breathe."

That was part of the justification cited earlier this year when state parks officials banned smoking in its 179 parks. Many park goers agree.

"The parks are family places to go and I don't want my kids or my sister or anybody to be around that," said Marisa Henkin, of Berne.

But smokers have their sympathizers.

"I don't smoke myself but I believe smokers do have certain rights," said Wendy McLaughlin of Schodack. "I think they should have rights to smoke outside."

"A lot of people like to hike and smoke too," said Melinda Seney, of Troy, "I can't imagine keeping people from doing that."

James Bush, a smoker from Troy, says people are far enough apart at parks that the smoke disburses and won't effect them.

"Unless it's a mother and a baby, that's a different story," Bush states, "I mean, come on, get real. It goes too far. It's our constitutional right."

State Parks and Recreation issued a statement Friday stating they believe they do have the authority to regulate outdoor smoking and they are considering an appeal of the court's decision.