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State expands no-smoking areas at parks; Tobacco restrictions at outdoor locations widen in push for 'healthy and clean places'

Smokers will have fewer places to light up in state parks and historical sites beginning this month, with the state designating more outdoor locations -- including picnic spots and areas around playgrounds and pools -- as tobacco-free zones.

Beyond outright bans at designated areas systemwide, such as nearby playgrounds, parks officials are installing no-smoking signs in places that vary by park but that include everything from food concession areas to gazebos to patios at the Top of the Falls restaurant in Niagara Falls State Park.

Officials, though, did not decide on a total smoking ban for all parks, except state parks located in New York City, which has enacted its own local tobacco ban for city-owned parks.

"State parks and historic sites should be healthy and clean places for our visitors, especially our youngest guests," said state Parks Commissioner Rose H. Harvey.

The further restrictions on tobacco use will reduce secondhand smoke dangers and lead to cleaner parks, she said.

The smoking ban applies to such spots as beaches, picnic shelters, pavilion and event tents at Allegany State Park; any covered areas, including canopies, at Artpark State Park; food and beverage lines at Beaver Island State Park; and eight new areas, including waiting lines to pay for trolley rides or patio areas at the Maid of the Mist, at Niagara Falls State Park.

Smoking already is banned inside public buildings in the park system.

Peter J. Brancato, a spokesman for the parks agency, said smoking will still be permitted in places such as campgrounds and trails. He said officials will be monitoring the new effort, which may or may not lead to total smoking ban at parks.

"We've taken the next step," he said of the new policy announced Monday.

The new smoking bans could include, depending on the park, public gardens within 100 feet of any historical structure and within 25 feet of basketball and tennis courts.

In some places, smoking will be permitted in only limited, defined areas.

Liz Williams, project manager at the California-based Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, said that most of the nation's smoking restrictions in parks have been done on the city, town or county level. In all, 602 municipalities across the country have smoke-free parks; in New York, 38 such bans are in place, including in Niagara Falls city parks.

In 2009, Maine banned smoking in common areas of state parks, similar to those announced by New York officials Monday. And in February, Williams said, the governor of Oklahoma signed an executive order banning smoking on all government properties inside and outside, including parks.

"The issue of smoking in parks is something communities and states are increasingly looking at," Williams said.

Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, said that it supports smoking bans in places such as elevators or areas occupied primarily by children, including playgrounds.

"We maintain, however, that complete bans go too far. For example, we believe that smoking should be permitted outdoors except in very particular circumstances, such as outdoor areas primarily designed for children," said David B. Sutton, a spokesman for Altria Client Services, a subsidiary of the holding company that owns Philip Morris.

Russell Sciandra, New York State director of advocacy for the American Cancer Society, said the new bans will make for less confusion -- and fewer conflicts between smokers and nonsmokers -- at state parks.

"Thousands who come to play or swim at New York State parks can now take a deep breath of fresh, clean air that's free from secondhand tobacco smoke," Sciandra said.

Sciandra said he believes that the number of smoke-free areas at parks will continue to expand "because the public will want it."

But he said his health organization is not holding out for a total ban at all state parks.

"We wouldn't say that you have to turn in your cigarettes when you enter a state park that may cover hundreds of acres," Sciandra said.