By Nina Wu
One of my earliest tweets ever was that cigarette butts on the beach are my pet peeve. I tweeted it again on Earth Day this year.
Ask anyone who has ever participated in a beach cleanup and they will tell you — hands down — that cigarette butts are, by far, the most frequently littered item picked up. Ocean Conservancy, which organizes International Coastal Cleanup Day, listed cigarette butts as the No. 1 item cleaned up from beaches worldwide in its 2012 Ocean Trash Index — 2.1 million, to be exact.
They are also a pain to pick up because they are small and filthy (they've been in someone's mouth, plus they're made of plastic, which never breaks down, in addition to nasty chemicals) and can get buried in the sand. Besides plastic debris (which you need a sifter to get out), they are the most annoying piece of litter to clean from the beach.
So it's about time that Honolulu passed a law prohibiting smoking at our beaches. Smoking is already prohibited at pretty much the entire sweep of Waikiki beaches, including Kaimana Beach, Kapahulu Groin, Kuhio Beach as well as Sandy Beach Park. Smoking is also prohibited on the grass and picnic areas of all of Kapiolani Regional Park. At Ala Moana Beach Park, smoking is only prohibited on the sandy area, but the entire park will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1. Hanauma Bay has prohibited smoking within the nature preserve since 1993.
I understand that people have the right to smoke, if they want to, even though it's harmful for their health, in the name of freedom of choice. I do believe that there are many responsible smokers who take the care to put out their butts in the trash can or an ashtray, and that not all are littering the beach. But time and time again, smokers clearly are littering our beaches. The evidence is right there in the sand, by the hundreds and thousands over the past few decades, polluting our oceans and marine life.
That's where smokers' rights stop — when they are causing harm to others and to the environment. Furthermore, Oahu's beautiful beaches should not serve as a giant ashtray for locals as well as visitors from around the world. If we keep letting it happen, our beaches won't be beautiful, but blighted — with butts. The damage extends to the coral reef and all the life that it supports.
Starting Jan. 1, all city beaches, parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts and bus stops will be smoke-free, as well. To see where all of Honolulu's parks are, visit this link. The fine is $100 for the first offense, up to $500 for the third. Honolulu Police Department will enforce the law, but let's hope people use common courtesy and take their smoking elsewhere.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa is also banning all tobacco products, including cigars, cigarettes and e-cigarettes, on its campus starting next year.
Honolulu is not the first to implement smoke-free beaches. Other municipalities — from Manhattan Beach, Calif. to New York City have done so, too, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Click here for a full list. France's Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine, also said she would like to see smoking banned at parks and beaches (coincidentally, it seems, one day after Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bills 25 and 28).
Kudos to all of the hard-working volunteers and organizations, like B.E.A.C.H., Surfrider Foundation and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii who work so hard to keep our beaches clean.
To learn more about the law, visit www.b-e-a-c-h.org/smoke-free-beaches. If you have questions, call Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation at 808-768-3003.