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New York City Council votes to ban smoking in parks

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City on Wednesday moved a step closer to ban smoking in parks, beaches and other outdoor public spaces, amid grumbling that the city government may have gone too far in its war on salt, fat and smoke.

The city council voted 36 to 12 in favor of the smoking restrictions, extending an existing ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he would sign the bill, and it would come into effect 90 days later.

At the council hearing on Wednesday, opponents to the bill denounced the dangers of smoking but said this ban represented government overreaching.

"I truly believe government is being too restrictive in this particular matter," said Councilman Robert Jackson, a Harlem Democrat. "It's a totalitarian society that's going to have this type of restrictions."

By adopting the restrictions, New York would join cities such as Chicago and San Francisco in the fight against second-hand smoke in public places.

The bill would leave enforcement to the city Parks department, which said it would give a warning before issuing a $50 fine. Police would not enforce the ban.

The ban includes boardwalks and pedestrian plazas such as the one in busy Times Square, where the city provides tables and chairs.

"This summer, New Yorkers who go to our parks and beaches for some fresh air and fun will be able to breathe even cleaner air and sit on a beach not littered with cigarette butts," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Under the Bloomberg administration, the city has promoted other health measures including a ban on trans fats in restaurant food and a requirement that chain restaurants display calorie counts on menus.

The mayor also has campaigned for food companies to cut salt levels in their products and for the federal government to ban the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps -- federal vouchers used by 42 million low-income Americans to buy food.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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