Smoking Still Allowed in California State Parks

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March 19, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Californians who grumble about cigarette butts in the parks and beaches may have to wait before their wish comes true — if it happens at all.

The most far-reaching ban to outlaw smoking in California's state parks has fallen short of a key legislative hurdle. Thursday (March 18), the smoking ban came up five votes short of approval in the Assembly, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

"Some people think that in the larger scheme this is not the most critical issue facing the people of California," said Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who was among the minority who supported the proposed legislation Thursday.

But the bill's author, Long Beach state senator and cancer-survivor Jenny Oropeza, said the fight for the ban is not over. She plans to bring the legislation back to the floor as soon as Monday. "Usually when you're that close and there's people absent, you can round up the votes at a later time," Monning said.

If the legislation eventually is signed into law, California would be the first state to ban smoking throughout its entire park system, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that tracks such bans. Similar smoking bans are being considered in Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York, according to the American Cancer Society.

Nationwide, nearly 100 cities prohibit smoking at beaches, and more than 400 local governments ban smoking at municipal parks.

The bill, SB 4, has changed slightly since its 2008 inception, mostly to accommodate the wishes of state parks staff. It now excludes campgrounds and parking lots from the smoking restriction and drops the fine from $250 to $100.

In Santa Cruz County, where California State Parks is the largest landowner, support has been overwhelmingly in favor of a smoking ban. Groups such as Save Our Shores and the Surfrider Foundation, which work to keep beaches free of cigarette butts, have pushed hard for the law.

Supporters cite not just the adverse health effects of smoking but the fire danger that smoking presents and the environmental harm the butts can have, particularly on marine life.

"The biggest problem is that people don't think of this as litter. But it's worse than most litter. It's plastic and it contains toxins," said Laura Kasa, executive director of Save our Shores.

Save Our Shores picked up nearly 60,000 cigarette butts off Santa Cruz County beaches last year, according to Kasa.

Local State Parks managers say enforcing a smoking ban won't be easy. The agency is responsible for miles of beach in Santa Cruz County as well as countless acres of wilderness.

Santa Cruz Parks Superintendent Chet Bardo says rangers, should the law take effect, would just have to assume one more task, alongside other duties like finding lost hikers and responding to medical emergencies.

"This would have to go in that mix," he said.

Many parks and beaches in the county, like Main Beach in Santa Cruz, already have smoking restrictions due to local ordinances.

The proposed legislation, which would take effect next year, allows individual state parks and beaches to implement the smoking ban when their managers see fit. Signs would have to be erected as a first step toward enforcing the new rule.

Oropeza's office says the point of the legislation is not to add staffing or cost burdens for parks, but to keep the parks healthy.

The senate has already passed the legislation, and Oropeza has said she expects the governor will sign the bill if it wins Assembly approval.

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