Anti-Smoke Ads Spark Alarm
A million-dollar ad blitz, funded by taxpayers and touting the Bloomberg administration's anti-smoking proposal, has even some supporters of the legislation questioning the campaign's appropriateness.
"I think it's a close call, but I think it's over the line," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Group, of the broadcast ads. Yet the group supports the bill.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who speaks in the radio ads, has defended them as "perfectly appropriate."
The debate arises as opposing camps prepare for today's City Council hearing on extending the city's smoking ban to all indoor public spaces.
The New York Nightlife Association is due to dissect city claims in the ad that secondhand smoke kills 1,000 New Yorkers a year.
The hearing, where Bloomberg is to testify, comes as Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) is expressing "concerns" about the bill's details.
In the ads, Bloomberg declares: "Together with the City Council, I've introduced a bill to ensure that all New Yorkers work in a smoke-free environment."
"Smoke-free workplace laws won't hurt business. Dozens of cities and states have made their workplaces smoke-free. The impact on restaurants, bars and tourism has been positive," Bloomberg tells listeners.
A TV commercial launched by the city carries a similar message but doesn't feature Bloomberg.
Bloomberg told reporters yesterday, "We're only using about $1 million ... Last year the department spent roughly $20 million on advertising ... This has nothing to do with the legislation. This is time to save people's lives."
Judges have frowned on lobbying with public funds. In 1995 the state Court of Appeals ruled against the state advertising for support of a bond issue on the ballot.
Politicians, of course, may advocate. The state attorney general in 1996 advised in favor of a state agency "seeking support for a legislative proposal" while "educating the public."
Jeff Friedlander of the city Corporation Counsel's Office said the impact of Bloomberg's "statement was to promote awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke. The mayor was informing the public of New York City government's proposed efforts to tackle this problem."
But Russianoff said: "The difference is using tax dollars for an ad campaign. In most of the cases the rule is the government can educate and not advocate. [Bloomberg's ad] does not say 'Make the call to your council member' but it's clearly designed to build support. It goes pretty far down the road."
The nonprofit American Cancer Society launches its own ads today featuring Bronx restaurateur Jimmy Rodriguez and workers condemning secondhand smoke.
Bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and clubs face a smoking ban for the first time under the proposed legislation.