A survey conducted a few years ago by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island found that Rhode Islanders are concerned about being exposed to cigarette smoke and litter while at the beach. One in 10 individuals answering the survey said they had been burned on a beach by stepping on a still-smoldering cigarette butt.
“Discarding cigarette butts, cigar butts and tobacco waste on beach sand is not only unsightly and unclean, it can be particularly hazardous to small children, who may handle or ingest this material,” said Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), who noted that cigarette butts contain 200 known poisons, many of which are known to cause cancer.
“Cigarette butts are a significant pollutant on our state’s beaches, and, if uncollected, may wash directly into ocean waters, to the detriment of marine life,” said Senator Lynch.
In the earlier Audubon Society survey, 85 percent of those questioned were in favor or some kind of smoking restriction at state beaches.
Senator Lynch has introduced legislation this year (2015-S 0124) calling for a full smoking ban on all public beaches in the state.
“It’s time to ensure that our state beaches are safer, cleaner and more enjoyable for everyone,” she said.
“Prohibiting smoking and the improper disposal of tobacco products on our public beaches is necessary to protect the public health, safety and welfare of all residents and visitors and has the added benefit of protecting wildlife and eliminating unsightly pollution from our extraordinary coastal environment,” said Senator Lynch.
The legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and is co-sponsored by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Sen. James E. Doyle II (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).
The legislation would make smoking or disposing of smoking products illegal on or within 20 feet of all beaches under the control of the Department of Environmental Management. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a mandatory fine of between $150 and $1,000 for a first offense, between $500 and $1,000 for a second conviction and between $750 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. In addition to fines, the court may, as a condition of probation, order violators to spend eight hours collecting litter at state beaches.
Senator Lynch said that although the legislation is specifically about banning smoking at the beaches, she hopes the underlying message she wants to deliver comes through loud and clear – that smoking is dangerous, not only for those who smoke but also for those around them.
“The use of tobacco is being found to be increasingly dangerous, for smokers and others who must breathe this contaminated air. Our beaches are family places, full of little children who should not be subjected to others fouling the air with potentially hazardous smoke. Secondhand smoke has been classified as a group A carcinogen, the most dangerous kind, and that is not the kind of atmosphere we should allow, especially at our beautiful beaches,” she said.
Senator Lynch is serving her fourth term in the Rhode Island Senate. She is the chair of the Senate Committee on Rules, vice chair of the Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs, secretary of the Committee on Judiciary and a member of the Committee on Government Oversight.
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