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Old Village Smoking Ban in Effect Now

New Law Garners National Press Coverage

A ground-breaking sidewalk smoking ban in the Village of Great Neck quickly garnered national attention. The law went into effect this week, following adoption at the board of trustees Jan. 4 meeting. By the following morning newspapers, television and radio stations, and countless Internet blogs picked up the story. This law makes the village the first municipality in New York State and the third in the country to enact such legislation. The law prohibits smoking on public sidewalks in front of businesses and certain other areas on Middle Neck Road in the Old Village.

The law began to take shape several months ago after Mayor Ralph Kreitzman received complaints from store owners. The mayor said that merchants were complaining “about smoke entering village stores and upsetting customers.” After hearing several complaints, Mayor Kreitzman contacted more merchants and heard more such complaints. At that point he decided to propose a local law to prevent such situations, adding that “it is also a health benefit for pedestrians.”

Two public hearings were held at village board of trustees meetings, and while there were a few who spoke against the ban, most were in favor.

As adopted on Jan. 4, the law prohibits smoking of tobacco and other substances on sidewalks along, or within 125 feet of, Middle Neck Road in front of commercial establishments, the Village Green Park and the Village Housing Authority.  The ban also precludes smoking at benches in municipal parking lots with access to Middle Neck Road and within 10 feet around them.

Research states the dangers and medical issues caused by smoking. According to the surgeon general’s latest report on smoking, low levels of smoke exposure, including exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke, lead to a rapid and sharp increase in dysfunction and inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, which are implicated in heart attacks and stroke. A study conducted in May 2007 by Stanford University found that a person sitting within three feet of a smoker outdoors can be exposed to levels of secondhand smoke similar to indoor levels. A Reuters article reporting Finnish researchers’ study suggests that the damage caused by secondhand tobacco smoke starts in childhood and causes measurable damage by the teen years.

Discussing the smoking ban with pulmonologists, the Great Neck Record learned that research tends to support the factor played by secondhand smoke (including smoking out-of-doors) in causing lung cancer. However, definitive research does find that any kind of secondhand smoke plays a major factor in ear infections and asthma-related illnesses in children.

“This smoking ordinance will benefit our local businesses,” stated Village of Great Neck Trustee Jeffrey Bass.  “Moreover, it is necessary for the health and well-being of our residents, business owners and community, overall. As a resident of the community, I believe it is important to take all measures necessary to protect our community. The smoking ban will decrease our residents’ exposure to the dangers of secondhand smoke.”

Deputy Mayor Mitchell Beckerman, who serves on the board of directors of the village’s Housing Authority at 700 Middle Neck Road, noted that there is no smoking in the common areas of that building nor on the grounds. He said that existing tenants are “grandfathered” (permitted to smoke in their apartments), but that all new tenants must maintain no-smoking apartments. “This is a great new law,” Mr. Beckerman said. “We are on the cusp of something … years from now this (no smoking ban) could be everywhere, but we are ahead of the curve.”

One sticking issue relating to the new law concerns enforcement. No-smoking signs will be placed at strategic spots in the village, and, as well, merchants will be offered signs for their stores. Nassau County Police officers and the village’s parking and code enforcement officers will have the power to issue tickets to offenders. Someone receiving a summons of violation must appear before the judge in village court; the judge will have the power to impose a general village violation fine up to $1000 or 15 days in jail. Mayor Kreitzman said that the hope is to “educate” the public and not to have to issue any summonses.

And Carol Meschkow, Nassau County Project Coordinator-Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island, told the Record that this new law will “empower” store owners and residents to ask someone to stop smoking on the sidewalk since it is now against the law.

A strong supporter of the village’s no-smoking ban from the start, Ms. Meschkow stated: “As there is no safe level of second-hand smoke, it is incumbent on our municipal leaders to take pro-active measures on behalf of their residents’ health and welfare. Sadly, smoking is responsible for the loss of over 25,000 New Yorkers annually, with 21,000 children under the age of 18 becoming daily smokers. It’s a proven fact that reducing tobacco use is an effective investment in New York’s future, and our next generation. Therefore, I applaud Mayor Kreitzman and the Great Neck Village trustees for their foresight and work as trailblazers. The precedent they have established in crafting policy to ban smoking on public sidewalks in the commercial district has raised the bar in this area, and will surely have a broad reaching positive impact, not only as a benchmark for other municipalities to follow, but most importantly they have placed their village in the forefront in the battle to reduce youth initiation to the number one preventable cause of death.”

 The Great Neck Park District is also supportive of no-smoking bans. Park Board Chairman Ivar Segalowitz told the Record that “anything that improves the health of the community, I’m in favor.” The park district bans smoking in specific locations, including all playgrounds and indoor facilities, all of the Parkwood complex (tennis center, pool and rink, parking areas), all of Great Neck House (including the parking lot), and all of Steppingstone Park (including the parking lot). Mr. Segalowitz also said that the park district is now talking of new, improved no-smoking signs. Park Commissioner Robert Lincoln added that the park district “may consider additional restrictions in the future.”

Prior to this new law, Local Law #1 of 2011, the Village of Great Neck banned smoking in and within 50 feet of municipal buildings, in municipal vehicles and in the village‘s Strathmore Eco-Park.

City officials in Berkley were the first to expand their no-smoking ordinance to its sidewalks throughout its business district. This smoking ordinance has also been under consideration in New York City.

As the new no-smoking law takes effect in the Old Village, it is the hope of the mayor and the board of trustee members that pedestrians will willingly obey the law.

And, despite some controversy, Mayor Kreitzman told the Record that he is pleased with his decision: “Just days before we adopted this no-smoking ban I was coming out of a children’s shoe store, carrying my almost-two-year-old grandson. Someone was smoking in front of the store and he blew smoke in our faces. I looked at my little grandson who coughed, and, trying to wave away the smoke, said to myself ‘You’re doing the right thing.’”

Mayor Kreitzman is hopeful that others will follow the example of his village. “It would be great to see other municipalities follow in our footsteps.”