Court finds that state parks officials overstepped bounds in smoking ban - The Buffalo News

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Court finds that state parks officials overstepped bounds in smoking ban

Smokers who enjoy a cigarette in the great outdoors can hack a sigh of relief.

A state judge in Albany on Friday ordered state parks officials to stop enforcing their recent ban on outdoor smoking in state parks, agreeing with a smokers’ rights group that the state exceeded its authority in imposing the ban.

State Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia Jr. ruled that the regulations adopted by the parks agency in February establishing no-smoking areas at 179 state parks and 35 historic sites across New York aren’t supported by any policy set by the Legislature.

The judge noted that while lawmakers enacted restrictions on indoor smoking, the Assembly and Senate have attempted but failed to target smoking in outdoor parks.

“In the court’s view, this is a strong indication that the Legislature is uncertain of how to address the issue,” he wrote.

Officials from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said they enacted the rules to protect visitors from secondhand smoke.

The parks office said Friday it’s considering an appeal.

“State Parks has legislative authority to manage a wide variety of activities within state parks to balance often-conflicting uses of our patrons,” it said in a statement. “We believe this authority extends to the regulation of outdoor smoking on playgrounds, swimming pools, beaches and other places children and visitors congregate.”

Ceresia wrote that the broad language of the state parks law doesn’t empower the office “to promulgate rules regulating conduct bearing any tenuous relationship to park patrons’ health or welfare.” He ordered parks officials to take down the no-smoking signs related to the outdoor ban.

While the judge acknowledged the state’s position that secondhand smoke is “deleterious to the health of nonsmokers, especially children,” he wrote that he was expressing no opinion on the wisdom of outdoor smoking regulations should they be enacted with proper authority.

The ruling came in a lawsuit challenging the February regulations that was filed in April by NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.

“This ban was imposed by bureaucratic fiat, not legislated law, and on that basis alone, it’s unconstitutional,” said Audrey Silk, the group’s founder.

The group’s attorney, Edward Paltzik, said the ruling “was certainly a vindication of individual rights in the face of government overreach.”

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