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No-smoking rules in state parks to take time

Under threat of a lawsuit, the Cuomo administration will go through a formal rulemaking process before enacting new prohibitions against smoking in additional areas of state parks.

Still, parks officials say that they are continuing to place no-smoking signs in more picnic spots and areas around playgrounds and pools -- but that compliance by smokers will be considered voluntary until the new rules kick in about two months from now.

Park police will not issue tickets this summer during the period leading up to rules being adopted later this summer.

"We never anticipated this would be a law enforcement policy based on tickets being issued to be successful. It's based on common sense and common courtesy," said parks spokesman Dan Keefe.

A smokers' rights group, New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, last week threatened to sue the state because the parks department was seeking to expand the tobacco-free zones at its facilities without going through a rulemaking process that includes consideration of public comments.

Audrey Silk, founder of CLASH, said smokers "cannot be stopped from smoking and cannot be fined or hassled by any law enforcement officer" until the regulations are adopted. She accused the parks department, though, of trying to "intimidate would-be smokers" with new no-smoking signs at locations that will be subject to the future ban.

"The Office of Parks' behavior goes from bad to worse -- from at least the facade of official policymaking to settling for simply fooling people with unofficial signs," she said of the signs going up before the rules are adopted.

One health group urged the Cuomo administration not to delay its smoking ban in parks.

"After a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, where thousands enjoyed smoke-free parks and beaches, New Yorkers will again be forced to breathe dangerous secondhand smoke for the next two months," the state chapter of the American Lung Association said in a statement.

When the rules are in place, the additional no-smoking areas will include state parks and historical sites. They will feature bans on tobacco use near playgrounds and other areas, and additional outdoor areas that will vary from park to park -- ranging from food concession and gazebo areas to patios such as the one at the Top of the Falls restaurant in Niagara Falls State Park.

A total systemwide smoking ban is being considered only for state parks located within New York City, which has adopted its own tobacco-free zones in city parks. State parks officials envision still permitting smoking in places like campgrounds, but new, clearer restrictions will be put in place at beaches, pavilions, canopy areas and food and beverage lines.

The new policy, backed by health groups but opposed by CLASH and at least one tobacco company, was announced by the administration in April.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com