Bill would choke off smoking in front of libraries


Plumes of smoke wafting from cigarettes lit in front of libraries could soon be a thing of the past. That is, once Gov. Andrew Cuomo approves it with a stroke of his pen. 

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera led a bill through both chambers banning smoking within 100 feet of all library entrances. And if Cuomo signs the bill into law, it would expand earlier efforts by Dinowitz and Rivera to snuff out smoking. They passed legislation prohibiting it within 100 feet of all entrances, exits and outside areas of all primary and secondary schools in 2012. 

This bill would simply apply that policy to libraries.

“Everybody uses a library,” Rivera said. “Certainly a lot of kids do. Secondhand smoke has an immense impact on the health of young people,” as well as senior citizens, and everyone in between. 

“So I want to make sure that we can minimize their exposure to it as much as possible.”


Unintended consequences

Indeed, secondhand smoke kills 110 non-smoking people each day — and one of them is typically an infant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes stroke, lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults, and puts children at increased risk for a host of ills, including sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, and more severe asthma.

In a borough where the city’s health department says asthma rates among children are especially high, banning smoking could at least help them avoid exposure to secondhand smoke — one of the most common asthma triggers, according to CDC.

The bill is part of a broader, ongoing effort for a healthier Bronx, which for the last nine years has ranked as the unhealthiest of the state’s 62 counties, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“If you don’t have access to healthy food that is affordable; places where you can exercise for free or at low cost; or good, affordable health care, then that’s going to be that much more difficult for you to be healthier,” Rivera said. “All these things are connected. This is only one grain of sand in the great effort to make sure that the Bronx … continues to make improvements as far as the health of its residents.”

But some residents, library users and smokers are divided on the issue.

Rafael Castillo, who lives near West 238th Street and Bailey Avenue in Kingsbridge, said he doesn’t notice a lot of people smoking outside his local branch of the New York Public Library, but supports a bill that’s “good for the health” of those who use it.

Rebecca Santiago, meanwhile, didn’t agree.

“That’s not right,” said Santiago, who checked out a couple of hardcovers. “This is a free country. Let them smoke where they want, as long as they don’t smoke inside the library.”

South Riverdale resident Maddie Harr, a regular at the Kingsbridge branch, said it’s “not good for the kids to smell” secondhand smoke. 

“I don’t smoke, so if you want to do it, do it at the end of the block,” she said.

Harr pointed to the many schools in the neighborhood, including the International Leadership Charter High School on Riverdale Avenue and Saint John’s School on Kingsbridge Avenue.

“I think it would be good to ban smoking in front of any establishment” close to a lot of kids and teenagers, Harr said. “You can’t smoke in front of the schools,” thanks to Dinowitz’s and Rivera’s 2012 bill, or within 15 feet of any health care facility entrance or exit because of the city’s Smoke-Free Air Act from 2009.


Puff where we want

At least one local smoker wasn’t miffed by the prospect of a ban in front of libraries.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Damien Ramnauth, puffing on a cigarette as he walked toward the Riverdale Auto Clinic he manages on West 230th Street. “There’s kids in” the library. “You don’t want to influence them to smoke cigarettes.”

Fellow smoker Justin Ortiz, however, was less keen on the idea.

“I could care less about their smoking (or) non-smoking policy,” said Ortiz, who occasionally checks out movies and books from the Kingsbridge branch. “As far as I’m concerned, this is New York City. Even with this idiot as president, we’re still allowed to smoke on the streets.”

Even though Ortiz doesn’t smoke in front of the library itself, as for the bill, “it’s unfair and it’s stupid. The only thing they’re doing is they’re infringing upon our rights.”

But what about the risk second-hand smoke poses to kids?

“Kids shouldn’t stand next to me when I’m smoking,” Ortiz said. 

Martha Gonzalez-Buitrago, manager of the Kingsbridge library, unequivocally supports the bill. Secondhand smoke “is hazardous to kids, to anyone that’s sitting out there,” on the benches, Gonzalez-Buitrago said, including those taking advantage of free Wi-Fi. 

“The guard is not able to go outside and tell (smokers) not to sit there,” Gonzalez-Buitrago said, “but 100 feet is well enough space to allow them to do what they need to do and not harm anybody.”

Smoke also wafts down into the garden where kids take breaks from reading during the warmer months. Still, Gonzales-Buitrago said, smoking in front of the library isn’t out of control.

“We monitor it and we ask (smokers) nicely” to smoke elsewhere, she said. “Our regulars (who smoke) really respect the perimeters of the library. But sometimes you get other people from everywhere else, and they don’t really think about that until they sit there and we let them know, it’s really not a place for you to smoke.”

Another issue, Gonzalez-Buitrago said, is homeless people lighting up while lounging on the benches early in the morning and late in the evening.

“In that case, we do ask them to move,” she said, “and we get help from NYPD and our special investigators.”

Until Cuomo signs the bill, communication with smokers is key.

“Simple conversation and they move,” Gonzalez-Buitrago said. “But anything for them to not do it helps.”

Her local Assemblyman agrees.

“The most important thing, of course, is preventing young people from starting to smoke in the first place,” Dinowitz said.

And if the health risks aren’t enough, there’s also a financial kick.

“I would encourage anyone to not only look at the fact that we are prohibiting smoking in a lot of different public places,” Rivera said, “but also the fact that the packs are now $13 each to take this time to consider quitting.”