In a noteworthy break from his predecessors, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a new law that forbids smoking and vaping at state parks and beaches. The law applies equally to marijuana, tobacco, pipes, and any form of e-cigarette.
As of January 2020, violators of the new law will be fined up to $25 for smoking or disposing of cigarette or cigar waste.
While the law will apply to California’s 280 state parks and 300 miles of beaches, state park officials will be given the option to appoint specific areas for smoking at their discretion.
The initial bill was amended to permit smoking on paved roads and in parking lots. Another exception to the law is that film and television productions will be given clearance for smoking on state property with appropriate permits.
California’s Department of Parks and Recreation is tasked with posting approximately 5,600 signs to ensure that individuals are aware of the prohibition. The estimated cost of informing people of this restriction will be anywhere between $1.1 million and $2 million.
“This bill will provide a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment for people, fish, and wildlife,” Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), the author of SB-8, said after the law was signed, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Cigarettes are one of the biggest polluters on our beaches. It harms people through secondhand smoke, and kills fish, which are affected by the tainted trash.”
Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) said, according to the Sacramento Bee: “As a coauthor of SB-8, I am glad that California’s state parks and beaches will be tobacco-free.
“In fact, I’m camping at China Camp State Park tonight. As a park lover, I am glad I pushed this for three years.”
Other advocates for the bill have cited the connection between wildfires and jettisoned cigarette butts. Careless smokers have been responsible for about 44 wildfires each year, over the past five years, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Nearly identical proposals were vetoed by Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger seven times during the past decade.
After Brown vetoed the same bill for the third time in three years, he cited concerns in his veto comments about the “coercive power of government,” saying that the “third time is not always a charm.”
“My opinion on the matter has not changed,” he added. “We have many rules telling us what we can’t do and these are wide open spaces.”
While the new law is supported by the cities of Huntington Beach and Santa Monica, as well as a number of environmental and medical groups, a number of Republicans in the legislature voted against the bill.
Some environmentalists have also expressed skepticism.
“The current language of these bills will only serve to create an entirely unenforceable law,” activist Scott St. Blaze told the Los Angeles Times. It “would be a complete waste of our state park rangers’ time and a total waste of California taxpayers’ money.”
Other activists believe this issue is tethered directly to problems associated with climate change.
According to Glazer, cigarette butts contain over 69 toxic chemicals. Moreover, Levine warned that toxic chemicals in cigarette butts can bleed into groundwater and subsequently poison animals that confuse the litter for food.
While Dan Jacobson, state director of Environment California, is appreciative of certain measures, he still believes the state can do more.
“The smoking ban is great,” Jacobson told The Epoch Times. But “in addition, we need to adopt SB-54 and AB 1080—both of which help reduce single-use plastic pollution.”
Emily Parker, a coastal and marine scientist for the nonprofit Heal the Bay, has stated that cigarette butts are the No. 1 object volunteers find annually.
“Cigarette butts are filters, and a lot of people don’t know that they’re made of plastic,” Parker told CGTN America. “They contain a lot of hazardous chemicals, and even though it’s just one small piece of plastic, all of that plastic can really add up and all of those toxins can add up and cause a lot of damage to the environment.”
Over the past two decades, volunteers have recovered almost a million cigarette butts in Los Angeles county.