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AHA advocate takes on MLB and NYC - and wins!

Phil Konigsberg was angry when he realized that CitiField, where the Mets play, was not taking the Smoke Free Air laws in New York as seriously as Yankee Stadium was. When the city laws changed to smoke-free in parks, he believed that meant that CitiField would be included in the new law, but he found there were provisions that carved CitiField out of the law. Determined, Phil took action to make sure that CitiField was included in the law. Here is his account of what happened.

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“The NYC Smoke-free Air Act (SFAA) was amended in 2011 to prohibit smoking in all NYC parks, with the exception of parking lots and perimeter sidewalks. In 2015, I noticed on the NY Mets website smoking was permitted at CitiField in three designated smoking areas. Since CitiField is located within the footprint of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, I felt the ball club was in violation of the SFAA. Subsequently, I contacted several NYC agencies including the Dept of Health and NYC Parks after the Mets ignored my repeated requests to comply with the SFAA.  

Initially, the Senior Legal Counsel to the Health Commissioner looked into the matter and advised me that there was a clause in the land lease with the City and the Mets which permitted the designated areas. When I asked for the specific documentation in the land lease, none was provided. So, I obtained a copy of the land lease under the Freedom of Information Act but was unable to locate any such reference. I then contacted Mayor de Blasio on the Brian Lehrer radio show. The Mayor said he was not aware smoking was permitted in the stadium. Prior to the Mayor's office getting involved, my unrelenting effort led to discussions between the Parks Legal Counsel and the former Mets ownership for over a year, all the time they refused to inform me where in the land lease smoking was permitted within the stadium. 

Earlier this year I went public about the smoking situation at CitiField while testifying at an unrelated City Council Parks Committee public hearing. Subsequently, I was informed that Deputy Mayor Vicki Been had taken control of the matter from the Parks Department and her office dealt directly with the new ownership of the Mets. Shortly after I was told the Mets had changed to a smokefree policy throughout the entire facility and their website was updated to reflect the new policy. Success at last! 

When I first noticed the designated smoking areas, I thought it was a simple matter to correct. However, when I encountered resistance from the ownership of the ball club, followed by the City agencies not willing to take ownership, I decided I would see this through since I knew I was correct. My conviction, persistency and perseverance were the deciding factors, as with many of the obstacles I've faced and overcome in my life.”

Phil did just what helps effect change – he saw an issue and he spoke out on it until he saw the changes he wanted to see. Advocacy like this is something we all can do and can make changes in the lives of so many. Now, people who visit CitiField will no longer have to be concerned with the impacts secondhand smoke can have on them. While this is a great achievement that Phil saw through, it’s an achievement we all have the power to see ourselves in issues that are important to us. That’s what makes us advocates.

Congratulations to Phil on this exciting victory!

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