NY1 and Marist released a poll today about the two-month-old ban on smoking in public parks, beaches, and plazas. Sixty nine percent of respondents said they were in favor, although opinions were split on whether the new measures are actually working. More surprisingly, 40 percent of smokers said they like the ban. We turned to smoker’s rights advocate Audrey Silk, an ex-cop who runs New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (NYC CLASH), for her perspective on the poll as one of the foremost champions of smoking in the city. Silk grows her own tobacco, which she says saves “thousands,” and wouldn’t tell us how long she’s been smoking (“that’s part of the anti-smoker’s tactic to stigmatize”).
Runnin’ Scared: Doesn’t it seem surprising that 40 percent of smokers supported the ban in this poll?
Audrey Silk: I don’t know about these polls. I don’t trust them. I don’t know how it was worded. When they were doing polls about indoor bans they lumped it all together: offices, bars, restaurants. And of course less people would want smoking in offices than bars. I can’t imagine that 69 percent is accurate. It’s so lopsided.
As far as smokers who go along with this, a lot of them have been so beaten down into submission that they think they have to say that. They’ve accepted stigmatization, and i have no respect for my fellow smokers who do that.
What kind of effect has the ban had on your life?
None. I have no respect for this law whatsoever. It’s unjustifiable on so many levels. They might as well have legislated discrimination. I will continue to smoke at parks and beaches.
My general feedback I’m feeling with this poll, which I don’t trust, is that nobody cares. This law will fade into obscurity the same way spitting on the sidewalk has. There was a ban on smoking in playgrounds for years but nobody knew it existed.
Do people generally smoke in playgrounds?
Probably not, but you’ve got basketball courts right next to the playground area. I don’t know, I don’t have kids so I don’t spend a lot of time in playgrounds.
They’ve planned to incrementally ban smoking for 30, 40 years. First airplanes, because who can complain. Even that was incremental. Then half-restaurants. We got used to that, then there was a full restaurant ban because they acclimated the public to that idea. Then offices. Again, it’s acclimation. Who’s going to complain? We got used to not smoking indoors. They knew they couldn’t just go right to bars. Then once they had all the indoors, then they went for doorways. Then parks, beaches, and homes are next. This is what they’ve been planning to do. It’s a slippery slope — they won’t skip over anything. I could not go along with when we testified at City Council hearing, they asked if we could agree to a partial ban. Maybe years ago I would have said yes, but not anymore. I have to keep them behind the line.
What kind of relationship does your group have with the city?
As far as I’m concerned now, I’ve severed any relationship I’ve had with the city. We’ve been invited, the City Council has reached out to me inviting me to testify. They’re putting on a show of a fair and democratic process.
We’ve reached the point where there’s no way — I’m not about to go and be part of this charade. Be the victim of their charade. That’s why we engage in civil disobedience. We’ve reached our Rosa Parks moment. We’re taking back the front of the bus.
If it ever got way too difficult to be a smoker in New York, would you consider quitting?
No. Then I would be their lab rat. They’re using the force of law to socially engineer the public. If i wanted to quit on my own, I would. We’re not pro-smoking, we’re smoker’s rights. It should be up to each individual. It’s a legal product. For a government to step in and make it as difficult and expensive as it is, they are more than overreaching in their role. They’ve stretched, they’ve perverted their role.
I’m not yelling at you, but that question gets me so angry. Who made them boss over how I live? What I do is not go where I can’t smoke.
Do you see this as a kind of civil rights struggle?
Oh absolutely it’s a civil rights struggle. This is bigotry. It’s not about health anymore. They lie about secondhand smoke. I agree that smoking is risky. I accept that it’s a risky choice. But now leave me alone! It’s a legal product.