There are times when a day at the beach feels more like a frolic in an ashtray, with cigarette butts liberally strewn through the sand and between our toes. On beach cleanup days in California, they are the No. 1 trash item that the volunteers pick up -- 340,221 in a single day in 2009. That alone was a good enough reason for the Assembly to pass Senate Bill 4, which would ban smoking on state beaches and through most areas of state parks.
Congratulations to state Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), who refused to accept the Assembly's rebuff of her bill last week and brought it back for a successful vote on Monday. A cancer survivor, Oropeza has made a crusade of limiting cigarette use, to the extent that we have taken exception to some of her legislation, finding it too nanny-like -- such as the prohibition against adults smoking in their own cars when children are present.
That's not the case with SB 4. The main reason to support the bill isn't to stop secondhand smoke -- there have to be places in the great outdoors where smokers still retain some freedom -- but to protect the public environment. The state has an obligation to keep its beaches and parks as clean as possible, especially when the litter contains toxic substances. When the tide rises, many of those cigarette butts on the beach become cigarette butts in the ocean, where they join the huge drifting garbage patches and become a danger to marine animals that ingest them. In the state's backcountry parks, smoking creates a wildfire hazard during the tinder-dry months.
Coastal cities have been ahead of the state in banning smoking on beaches, realizing that it's in their financial interest to keep these areas free of litter and to save money on expensive beach cleaning; it's not easy to pick up these tiny bits of garbage. In California, 127 municipalities, including the city and county of Los Angeles, have prohibited smoking at their beaches or parks or both. Compliance has generally been good, once smokers are fully aware of the rules; this bill would not require expensive new enforcement efforts, which the parks system can ill afford. And Oropeza's bill would allow smoking in campgrounds and parking areas, so that smokers could still indulge within limits.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill, which he ought to sign enthusiastically. It has the potential to help protect the environment, preserve the tourism value of the state's recreational properties and save money on trash removal and firefighting. That's a lot of payback for a relatively moderate curb on the freedom to smoke.