A state judge has ordered New York parks officials to stop enforcing their recent ban on outdoor smoking, agreeing with a smokers' rights group that the state exceeded its authority.
The February rules establishing no-smoking areas at various parks, including popular beaches and all nine state parks within New York City, aren't supported by any policy set by the Legislature, state Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia said. The city has a separate outdoor smoking ban for its parks and beaches that wasn't challenged in this lawsuit.
There are 179 state parks in New York, and seven in New York City. Those in New York City include the East River State Park in Brooklyn and the Riverbank State Park on Riverside Drive.
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 and that officials believe they have authority to manage the often conflicting park use of patrons, extending to 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 acknowledging the state's position that you don't need to be an expert to understand that secondhand smoke is "deleterious to the health of nonsmokers, especially children," the judge wrote that he was expressing no opinion on the wisdom of outdoor smoking regulations should they be enacted with proper authority to do so.
The lawsuit was brought 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.
"It was certainly a vindication of individual rights in the face of government overreach," said attorney Edward Paltzik.
Brett Joshpe, his co-counsel, said the issue with the parks under New York City jurisdiction is different, since those restrictions have City Council backing, but there may be another avenue of legal attack there.
The New York Attorney General's Office, which is defending the state park rules, is reviewing the decision along with parks officials, a spokesman said Friday.