A New York Supreme Court justice has ruled that the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation exceeded its regulatory authority this year with a ban on outdoor smoking in state parks.
In a ruling issued early last month and made public on Friday, Justice George B. Ceresia, Jr. sided with a “smokers’ rights” group to block a regulation that would prohibit smoking in designated areas of 179 state parks and 35 historic sites, including beaches, picnic areas, and boardwalks.
Although typically falling under the rubric of administrative law, Ceresia criticized the action as a step “into the realm of legislating,” ruling that state law gives the agency no authority in “regulating conducting bearing any tenuous relationship to park patrons’ health or welfare.”
The state attorney general’s office is reviewing the decision with the agency, which defends its authority to “manage a wide variety of activities within state parks to balance conflicting uses of our patrons,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We believe the authority extends to the regulation of outdoor smoking on playgrounds, swimming pools, beaches, and other locations where children and visitors congregate.”
The agency may appeal the decision.
For now, smokers rejoiced. Audrey Silk, founder of the group New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment told reporters on Friday the ruling represented a victory for freedom of choice. “This is putting the prohibitions on notice that despite their ugly war being waged on adults who choose to smoke, they are not entitled to a free-for-all in governing when it comes to this segment of society,” she said in a statement. “This ban was imposed by bureaucratic fiat, not legislated law, and on that basis alone, it’s unconstitutional.”
The group sued the state in April over the regulation, which is similar to New York City’s ban on smoking in city parks, beaches, boardwalks, golf courses, and pedestrian plazas. The city, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, banned smoking in nearly all workplaces and indoor recreational venues in 2003. The state Legislature followed suit later that year. Bloomberg, a Democrat, has battled Libertarians and others over smoking bans and public health measures during his mayoral tenure.
However, Ceresia made clear his ruling makes no political statement on outdoor smoking bans. “Nothing in this decision is intended to circumscribe [the state’s] legitimate powers,” he writes. “Nor is this decision intended to express an opinion on the wisdom of outdoor smoking regulations, provided that they are enacted by the government body with the authority to do so.”
During the past decade, the New York State Legislature has declined to pass at least 19 bills prohibiting outdoor smoking at state venues.