Talya Grimberg of Israel enjoys a cigarette at Times Square. Last month the Parks Department lied about the number of Park Enforcement officers, it had claiming it had 400. (Photo: Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal)
In the first month of New York City's new smoking ban in 1,700 parks and along 14 miles of beaches, the city has issued a grand total of one ticket, according to the Wall Street Journal.
That single ticket went to a newspaper photographer who had been goading officials to issue a ticket, a spokeswoman for the city's Parks and Recreation Department said. The new ban—spanning parks, beaches, marinas as well as pedestrian plazas such as in Times Square—took effect May 23.
City officials say they always planned lax enforcement of the anti-smoking ban in the early days. They say their focus now is on getting the word out, not on writing tickets.
Still, the dearth of tickets, coupled with the reality that many people are flagrantly violating the law, has left some questioning whether the city is truly committed to keeping these new smoke-free zones actually smoke free.
"The new smoking law is an absolute joke," said Ida Sanoff, 59 years old, who lives in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and enjoys spending time at the ocean. "I have asthma and there are days when I've had to move my chair three times because people, sometimes in groups, sat down near me and started smoking like chimneys."
Ms. Sanoff said she's even spotted "vendors" selling cigarettes on the beach since the ban took effect.
"It doesn't make sense to put a law into place without any way of enforcing it. Why bother?" she said.
Since May 23, the Parks & Recreation Department has recorded roughly 700 instances in which officials approached smokers and informed them of the new law; in those cases, the smokers have been compliant, officials said.
Parks Department officials are authorized to enforce the law and may issue fines of $50 per violation.
But the city is hoping the law will largely be self-enforcing. When lawmakers passed the new law, they deliberately prohibited police officers from issuing any tickets related to the smoke ban.
Council Member Gale Brewer, the law's lead sponsor, said this will be the "summer of warnings."
"I don't want people to get tickets and feel like there is somebody doing this for revenue," she said. "I like the fact that there are warnings."
At some point in the future, if people continue to violate the law, Ms. Brewer said she expected the city will step up enforcement.
Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the parks department, and Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, declined requests for comment.
"As with any new law, compliance occurs over time as the public becomes increasingly aware of new rules," the health department said in a statement. "To educate New Yorkers and visitors about the new law, signage has been posted throughout the city's parks and beaches."
Earlier this month, Albert Wyse, a 28-year-old from Manhattan, enjoyed a cigarette while sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park. Mr. Wyse, who gave his cigarette to another park visitor to finish, said he was unaware of the ban in city parks. But knowledge of the law, he said, was unlikely to stop him from continuing to smoke in parks. "I don't think anyone cares because it's not really enforced," Mr. Wyse said. "I really can't see some police officer or park ranger coming up to me and telling me to put it out."
Still, he said, "I would put it out if I were asked politely."
Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the notion that the law will be self-enforced is "ridiculous." Smokers "kind of laugh" when told by citizens that they are violating the law," he said.
"They say, 'Well, if it's not going to be enforced, why should we stop smoking?'" he said. "People are going to continue to flout it, if there's no pressure to deal with it."