By Suneet Goraya
Bronx Health REACH
New York City was one of the first cities in the world to prohibit smoking in parks and on beaches. May 23rd marked the one-year anniversary of this historic policy that made it illegal to smoke anywhere in a city park, beach or pedestrian plaza, including Orchard Beach and Van Cortlandt Park! As a National Parks Service HealthCorps member for Bronx Health REACH, I am thrilled about this policy, because participants in our adult walking groups, girls running program, and zumba classes are no longer exposed to toxic secondhand smoke while exercising in the parks. With over 7,000 acres of parks space in the Bronx alone, smoke-free parks and beaches are vital for the health of Bronx residents and the maintenance of our beautiful parks and beaches. Many Bronx residents have noted that smoking in parks and on beaches has been a large deterrent from going to the parks and beaches to exercise and enjoy the outdoors.
While the Bronx is home to the largest amount of parks land in the city, it also fares the worst in health outcomes. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, over 30 percent of children in Head Start programs and 40 percent of adults in the South Bronx are obese. Currently, 4 in 10 adults in the South Bronx report not exercising at all. In addition, Bronx County has one of the highest rates of asthma in the United States. In some areas of the Bronx, it is estimated that 1 in 5 children have asthma. Health experts have determined that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure. Just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can increase asthma attacks in asthmatic children. Prohibiting smoking at parks and beaches encourages Bronx residents to utilize the plentiful park space for physical activity and recreation, without inhaling secondhand smoke or increasing their risk of an asthma attack.
Building healthier environments for Bronx residents is of great importance to Bronx Health REACH and our community partners. Thank you to our community leaders for supporting this important policy to improve the health of Bronx residents. This smoke free policy is a significant stride in reducing health disparities in the borough. It was a great first smoke-free year and we look forward to hosting Zumba, walking, running, and other activities this summer in smoke-free parks and beaches across the borough.