Back in the day, a dame could take a long drag off a Virginia Slim, blow smoke in a stranger's eyes and it was considered sexy.
That was a long time ago. Today, just finding a place to light up that Virginia Slim legally is getting more and more difficult.
During the past decade, California has been out front on indoor anti-smoking legislation, and the state continues to lead the pack, as it were, taking the issue outside. Last week Solana Beach, one of the first cities to implement no-smoking ordinances in restaurants 10 years ago, became the first city in the state to make smoking on beaches and in city parks illegal.
We've all seen lit cigarettes flicked from the driver's side windows. Those butt-flickers are mostly under the impression that cigarettes are made from cotton and are biodegradable. Not true, says the environmental groups CigaretteLitter.org and Keep America Beautiful. Cigarette filters are actually made up of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, and just as toxic to the environment and non-biodegradable as plastic bags.
Cigarette butts are the most prevalent litter item, accounting for more than half of all the litter nationwide, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, volunteers from a group called “I Love a Clean San Diego” plucked more than 42,000 cigarette butts off local beaches.
During a September beach cleanup in Solana Beach, 230 pounds of trash were lifted in just a few hours-the No. 1 discarded item was cigarette butts, which comprised 40 percent of all the trash picked up. “People have been using beaches as ashtrays,” said Solana Beach City Manager Barry Johnson.
Estimates say that several hundred billion to several trillion cigarette butts are being dropped on streets and in parks and beaches worldwide every year. Beyond merely creating ugly, long-lasting trash everywhere, butts from cigarettes leach chemicals into groundwater and often end up in waterways, sometimes being mistaken for food by fish and wildlife.
The impetus for Solana Beach's new law began when a group of North County high school students representing the Youth Tobacco Prevention Corps-a faction of the San Dieguito Alliance for a Drug Free Youth-made informational presentations to the city councils of Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach last year. Solana Beach was the only city to consider the idea and eventually pass a law.
While no one spoke out against the ordinance at public hearings prior to the law's passage, some folks feel there are already too many laws in place restricting personal freedoms. “It's an outside area, so smoking should be allowed,” said Edward Teyssier, chairperson for the San Diego County Libertarian Party. “I think that we are being over-regulated. Rather than banning smoking, the real issue that should be focused on is littering.”
City officials say Solana Beach's ordinance is based partly on the rationale of a state “tot lot” law passed in 2002, which bans smoking within 25 feet of a child playground.
Ordinance 316 makes it illegal to smoke within any city beach or park (including the parking lot area of Fletcher Cove). The decision thrust Solana Beach into a media spotlight when newspapers from Hawaii to Ohio picked up the story.
The danger associated with second-hand smoke was one of the reasons the city went forward with the new law. “The beaches and parks are for youth and recreation and that doesn't mix with smoking,” Johnson said. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 3,000 lung-cancer deaths of non-smoking adults each year are due to second-hand smoke.
The law does allow for the possibility of designating a smoking area, possibly near restrooms, although Johnson stopped short of saying the city would create smoking and non-smoking beaches. As for those who can't help themselves and need to smoke on the beach, first time offenders can expect a $100 fine.
“I think you should let people do what they want,” Teyssier said. “If there are some people who want to go to smoking-free-only bars, and others who want to go to smoking bars, that option should be available. All this legislation does is make it more difficult for people to live their lives they way they want to live their lives.”
That's certainly not the way Elizabeth Collier sees it. “We're all pretty excited about the ordinance,” said Collier, a 17-year-old Youth Tobacco Corps member and one of a dozen kids who pleaded her case before the City Council and then watched last Friday as the first “smoke-free beach” sign was unveiled at Fletcher Cove.
Officials in Santa Monica, San Clemente, Chicago and Los Angeles have already called city staff in Solana Beach for advice on implementing similar measures. Earlier this year the city of El Cajon passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking in its parks.