Scrapyard: Should Hawaii ban smoking in parks and beaches?

The Hawaii County Council voted in March to ban smoking at all Big Island beach parks and recreational facilities. Some say it’s legislation that’s needed statewide. Is this a good idea?


Rep. Kirk Caldwell

State House Majority Leader

For the second year in a row, I’ve introduced a bill to ban smoking on Hawaii’s beaches. All health reasons aside, the ban is very much an environmental measure to keep our beaches clean. Despite laws against littering, our pristine beaches are regularly treated like ashtrays. Fewer than 1 in 6 Hawaii residents smoke, but we all suffer the consequences of cigarette butts on the beach.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette litter accounts for one in every five items during cleanups, making it a very prevalent form of litter. Only when beaches are located in urban areas like Waikiki can we afford to purchase and run sand-cleaning equipment. In other locations, the sand is thick with filters.

Cigarette filters are not biodegradable; they do not decay and cannot be absorbed by the environment. Filters remain intact for about 10 years before breaking apart, and this amounts to tons of litter.

We also know that wildlife sometimes ingest the butts that are discarded. Tobacco litter at beaches and parks washes directly into the sea, where it is detrimental to coastal birds, sea turtles and fish.

In passing the earlier bans on smoking, we were most concerned about the effects of long-term exposure to secondhand smoke on employees. This time, there is an additional emphasis to keep our beaches clean for visitors and residents alike. Banning smoking at beaches helps to protect one of our Islands’ most important resources—our beautiful shorelines and aquatic life.

The Big Island County Council is leading the way, by voting to approve a ban on smoking at Big Island beach parks and recreational facilities. In coming years I hope we can do the same for every beach in Hawaii. We would be respecting the land and leading the nation with this effort.

Jolyn Tenn

Co-Chair of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance

To frame a smoking ban as an effective littering measure is ridiculous. Yes, there is a littering issue in Hawaii’s parks and beaches. I’m a smoker myself, and I get so angry when I see people throwing their cigarette butts on the ground.

But smokers are far from the only people who litter on the beach or in parks. If lawmakers’ intent is to curb littering, address the problem directly, instead of making smokers into scapegoats. There are already laws on the books that forbid littering. Enforce them.

With regard to the health benefits of banning smoking on the beach, there has never been an independent scientific study about the impacts of secondhand smoke in open-air situations. If the government is going to restrict our freedoms in public, shared spaces, they need to have a scientific basis for it. If you’re going to pass legislation like that, you’d better be able to back it up with facts.

As long as there’s clear signage, people can discern for themselves what they want to do. It’s not the government’s place to tell people what they can and cannot do as adults, when we’re talking about legal substances.

This kind of legislation is entirely motivated by emotional issues, by the fact that cigarette smoke offends people. I don’t like cigar smoke. But I exercise my freedom of choice, and I get up and move away from it. There’s just no tolerance anymore. It’s amazing to me that it’s happening in this state, especially given our track record for tolerance. We were the first state to legalize abortion; we led the nation in interracial marriages. But in the past 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of intolerance creeping in about a lot of things. People have forgotten the aloha spirit.

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