California may extend smoking ban to state parks and beaches

Targeting toxic litter, the California Assembly voted to broaden the reach of the state's smoking ban Monday. If Gov. Schwarzenegger signs the bill, other states could follow.

Reed Saxon/AP
Ian Zamora holds a cigarette at Surfrider Beach in Malibu, Calif., on March 17. California's smoking ban could soon extend to state parks and beaches.

Sixteen years after California set a national precedent by instating a smoking ban in restaurants, lawmakers have voted to outlaw smoking at 278 state parks and beaches in what experts say is one of the nation’s most far-reaching regulations of tobacco use.

The measure, SB 4, sponsored by state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, allows for a fine of $100 for those caught smoking at a state beach or in a designated section of a state park. Smoking will still be allowed in some parking lots and campgrounds. Backers say they were driven more by the threat of fire and the toxicity of cigarette butts on the ground than by the issue of clean air.

“This is a chance for California to continue to lead the country in protecting its irreplaceable state parks from forest fires,” says Ray Sotero, chief spokesman for Sen. Oropeza. The bill has not yet been signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, but Oropeza's office says it expects him.

“We want to make it clear that this is an attempt to protect the environment at beaches and parks that is long overdue,” says Mr. Sotero. Previously, about 100 localities have enacted such laws, which has merely turned those that didn’t “into ash trays,” according to Debra Kelley, senior director of advocacy and health initiatives for the American Lung Association (ALA) of California.

She points out that cigarette butts do not biodegrade and contain 200 known poisons.

Serena Chen, regional director for tobacco programs at the ALA, says that recent studies have shown that the toxicity of just one cigarette butt is enough to kill half the minnows swimming in a liter of water. [Editor's note: The original version of this story misspelled Ms. Chen's first name.]

“The toxicity of a single cigarette butt is way more serious than most people know,” she says.

The California law has attracted national attention.

"The history of tobacco control efforts suggests that where California leads, the rest of the country follows,” says Micah Berman, director of the Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy at New England Law in Boston.

“If this bill is signed into law, other states can be expected to take similar action," he says. "Already, several other states are considering similar proposals."

The law, Mr. Berman and others say, is likely to survive legal challenges.

“Courts in recent years have upheld laws that prohibit workers from smoking not only on the job but on their own time. They have also upheld restrictions on smoking in places of public accommodation and in the workplace, particularly when those restrictions were adopted by legislatures rather than by administrative agencies,” Jonathan L. Entin, an associate dean at Case Western Reserve University's school of law in Cleveland.

In fact, says Mr. Entin, these rulings have long antecedents. State courts in the 1920s upheld laws prohibiting school teachers from smoking in public, for example. “Even before that, state courts rejected blanket bans on smoking in public but approved of more limited restrictions. The California law seems to fit into that narrower category.”

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