WAILUKU - Maui County Council members are considering a bill that would ban smoking, tobacco products and electronic smoking devices at county parks and beaches.
Dozens of residents and students testified in support of the bill before the council's Committee on Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation on Friday afternoon. The bill is modeled after a similar tobacco-free measure passed in Hawaii County in 2008. The Honolulu City Council passed a similar, though less-comprehensive, measure last year, although its version limited the ban to "smoke-free," still permitting certain tobacco products like chewing tobacco.
Proponents of the bill said banning cigarettes and tobacco products on county parks and beaches would curb harmful secondhand smoke, decrease the amount of cigarette butt litter and reduce temptation for smokers who are aspiring to quit the habit.
"One of my classmates went to Lahaina Harbor with his friend, they caught a fish and cut it open and found a cigarette butt," said Hui Malama Learning Center student Ryden Richardson.
"Sometimes people toss their cigarette butts on the ground not realizing they end up in the ocean, and then the fish eat them and die. Let's keep our island clean and free of cigarette butts," the 15-year-old said.
Others agreed that pollution from cigarette butts is a problem at beaches, parks, highways and farms.
"The number one item we find during beach cleanups are cigarette butts," said Tim Lara, vice chairman of the Maui branch of coastal advocacy group Surfrider Foundation.
Council Member Don Couch said he has received more than 400 written testimony submissions regarding the proposal, and while most are in support of the measure, a few argue that the bill would "take away our freedom" to smoke.
Lara responded that everyone is also entitled to the freedom to breathe clean air, to not have smoke blowing in your face and to sit at a beach that isn't littered with cigarette butts.
Other advocates said the bill would help promote a healthier, smoke-free lifestyle.
Nearly 69 percent of adult smokers want to quit, and the smoking ban would help them do that, said Sonya Niess, the Maui coordinator for The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.
"It's the basic concept - 'Out of sight, out of mind,' " she said.
Niess added that more than 1,500 cigarette butts were collected in just one hour last week at Keopuolani Park in Kahului.
While most council members seemed to be in support of prohibiting cigarette smoking at public parks and beaches, some had concerns about the electronic smoking devices, commonly referred to as e-cigarettes.
"I know personally of people who are trying to quit the habit of smoking and have found e-cigarettes as a method of reaching there," Council Member Stacy Crivello said. "I know of one individual who was a pack-a-day smoker, but has turned to one in the morning and one in the afternoon (while smoking the e-cigarette in between). I see that as very positive."
Council Member Mike White also questioned whether electronic smoking devices contribute to the littering problem.
Niess, with The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, said that the devices may not be polluting public places in the same way cigarette butts do, but there is not enough known about the product to determine whether it is helping or hurting people who want to live a healthier lifestyle.
"Cessation specialists report that clients quit smoking for the e-cigarettes, but they're not seeing it long term. (People) will switch to e-cigarettes and then get back on to smoking and doing the e-cigarettes, so they're double-dosing on their nicotine, which is actually really dangerous," Niess said.
She added that the liquid cartridge used for the e-cigarettes contains nicotine, and can be poisonous if a child or animal ingests it.
Niess said that the proposed bill would be a comprehensive policy to promote "a healthier environment for everyone."
About a dozen students from Maui High, Baldwin High, Hui Malama Learning Center, Maui Preparatory Academy and other schools attended the committee meeting Friday. Those who spoke urged council members to pass the bill to ban tobacco in county parks and on beaches.
"I believe that this law will grant individuals the comfortability to speak out to say, 'Hey, stop smoking,' or, 'Put that away, it's illegal,' " Maui High School senior and student body President Brian Zamora said in testimony.
In January, she and other students from the Maui District Student Council Organization collected 14,130 tobacco, marijuana and cigarette butts during a two-hour, islandwide cleanup at beaches in Hana, Paia, Kahului, Waiehu, Olowalu, Lahaina and Kihei.
Due to a shortage of time, the meeting was recessed until Friday.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.