New Yorkers to be protected from secondhand smoking

A new law in New York City bans smoking in 43 square miles of parks, public plazas, beaches, and boardwalks in the city.

The law, which took effect Monday with a $50 fine attached, aims to protect New Yorkers from secondhand smoking in often elbow-to-elbow environments. But some health specialists question whether the smoke poses a serious danger in open spaces, and critics say the city is trampling on civil liberties.

“People who smoke have the right to do it,’’ said Shirley Scott, an ex-smoker visiting New York on Monday with her husband, who goes through three packs a day.

The New York City Council approved the ban in February. The first day it kicked in felt more like a public awareness campaign than a strictly enforced, punitive law.

Members of the NYPD patrolling the square alongside employees of the neighborhood business alliance went easy on smokers.

“I tell them, there’s a new law today — and they comply,’’ said David Moy, of the Times Square Alliance. He noted that smoking is allowed just a few feet away, on sidewalks.

On Monday, smoke kept rising in the off-limits zone, despite small antismoking signs posted in several spots. The city has said it plans to rely on signs and social pressure instead of active enforcement.

A government ban on smoking is nothing new in New York. The city forbade smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public indoor spaces in 2002