A Maui County Council committee recommended passage of a bill Friday to ban smoking at all county parks and beaches, but it decided to remove language that would have also banned electronic cigarettes.
In the continuation of last week's meeting that had been recessed until Friday morning, the council's Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee unanimously voted to pass the anti-smoking measure, with one amendment that would keep the use of electronic smoking devices in public areas legal.
Committee Chairman Don Guzman said that because electronic cigarettes are relatively new technology, neither the state nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have definitively categorized them with cigarettes or other tobacco products.
"It's kind of in limbo," Guzman said after the panel's meeting.
The state Legislature is reviewing the safety of electronic smoking devices, and if lawmakers find them to be similar to harmful tobacco products, the County Council would likely revisit and amend the ordinance, he said.
Committee members considered two other amendments to the bill, although neither garnered enough votes to be included in the measure.
One amendment would have added an exception to the smoking ban for the county's municipal golf course in Waiehu.
"The reason why we wanted to exempt the golf course is because it's more open-air, and usually they play in groups of four and usually you pick your own group," county Department of Parks and Recreation Special Events Coordinator Roxanne Teshima said.
Teshima was filling in for Parks Deputy Director Brianne Savage, who was on Molokai on Friday for a meeting.
"If you don't like (to be around) smoking, you pick people who don't smoke or tell them not to smoke," Teshima said. She added that the smoking ban passed on Oahu last year exempts municipal golf courses.
Council Member Elle Cochran opposed the proposed exemption, asserting that all county parks and beaches should be free of tobacco, especially because many parents bring their children to the golf course.
"Because golf courses are maintained and manicured by the county, I would hope that all parks are treated the same," Cochran said. "I'm not in favor of exempting golf courses."
She added that oftentimes, a "twosome" of golfers is paired randomly with another twosome to make a group of four, and so nonsmokers may be paired with smokers.
Cochran and Guzman voted against passing the amendment.
Another amendment proposed Friday would have allowed the parks director to designate smoking areas, mostly to quell complaints from department employees who who would not be able to smoke at work.
"Honolulu's Parks Department has already had two grievances filed from employees who work within the park (and) are not allowed to smoke at work," Teshima said of Honolulu's smoking ban that took effect Jan. 1. "We don't want to be faced with those issues. . . . We have smokers that are employees. I would think that it's a good thing that we have an out instead of having to go back and changing (the law)."
But Cochran pointed out that Hawaii Island passed its anti-smoking law six years ago in 2008 and, to her knowledge, not a single grievance has been filed.
Cochran said that adding the exemption would "defeat the purpose" of educating the public that smoking is "a bad habit" that should not have to be tolerated.
Toward the end of the discussion, Council Members Mike White and Stacy Crivello, who had moved to discuss the amendment, withdrew their motions, effectively killing the amendment.
Guzman said he is "really happy" about passing the measure through his committee and is proud of the youths in the community who advocated for the measure.
"This is a good starting point," Guzman said. "It's so refreshing to see the youth get so involved and be able to be empowered and see a law that they initiated. They made a difference."
The yearlong effort started with a "Butts Off Our Beaches" beach cleanup, spearheaded by Maui Preparatory Academy junior Gina Marzo, Guzman said. What began as a class project quickly escalated into a grass-roots movement as the Maui District Student Council Organization, Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, Surfrider Foundation and other groups got involved.
Guzman's office helped draft the bill. Council members have said they've received more than 400 written testimonies regarding the proposed anti-smoking bill, most in support.
Council Members Gladys Baisa, Robert Carroll and Mike Victorino were excused from the committee meeting Friday.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.