Monday Sub Beach Butt Ban

Posted Feb. 22, 2009, at 5:20 p.m.

If smokers feel as though their worlds are getting smaller, they’re right. A bill working its way through the Legislature, if approved, would make that world smaller still. LD 67, sponsored by Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, would ban smoking on or within 20 feet of any beach, playground, snack bar, group picnic area, enclosed public area or public restroom in state parks and historic sites.

It’s an inevitable step. And it’s a move that bestows public health and comfort dividends.

A more comprehensive bill that would have prohibited smoking in all public beaches and parks, whether state, county or municipally run, was killed in legislative committee. Lawmakers were persuaded that such an approach would be like an unfunded mandate on towns and cities, forcing them to enforce a new law.

In recent decades, smoking has been banned in most workplaces, in stores, on airplanes, trains and buses, in schools, restaurants and bars, and in vehicles if a minor

child is present. Critics will gripe that it is a creeping expansion of the so-called nanny state, legislating behavior that is deemed acceptable.

Not so.

The old saying, “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose,” applies here. Secondhand smoke is a health threat. And even if it weren’t, it is often offensive to nonsmokers. The smoke is especially offensive in settings where people go to enjoy fresh air, such as parks and beaches.

Furthermore, many tobacco users leave evidence of themselves behind which does not vanish like the smoke in the wind. A stroll along a beach will reveal cigarette butts, one of the most prevalent forms of seashore trash. And as parents with toddler-age children know, those butts are toxic chemi-cal repositories in bite-size packages, often stuck in a child’s mouth before Mom or Dad can react to stop it.

Smokers are often oblivious to the power their habit has to annoy, irritate and disgust others. In enclosed areas, smoke can give nonsmokers headaches, leave them with burning eyes, and make them cough.

The recent flap over outdoor wood furnaces illustrates the same dynamic at work when smokers inflict the byproduct of their use on others. Just as a homeowner doesn’t enjoy wood smoke billowing up against their picture window from the neighbor’s outdoor furnace, nonsmokers out for a day at the beach don’t want to breathe in the exhaust from the burning end of a known carcinogen.

A smoker’s world is indeed shrinking, and with good reason. In the case of LD 67, the argument for its passage is not that those who would smoke at the beach are better off breathing in the salt air; it’s that nonsmokers should be able to have a cigarette-free day at the beach.

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