State-owned beaches and parks, such as Will Rogers State Beach on Santa Monica Bay, still permit smoking and vaping, unlike many municipal beaches in California. (Pauline Bartolone/California Healthline)
For years, state lawmakers have been trying to eliminate second-hand smoke and cigarette butts from California’s 280 illustrious beaches and natural parks.
Once again, they have come up short.
Late Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed two bills that would have banned or drastically curtailed smoking and vaping in parks and beaches run by the state.
“If people can’t even smoke on a deserted beach, where can they?” Brown pondered in his veto message. “There must be some limit to the coercive power of government.”
Lawmakers who supported the legislation said banning smoking at state parks would protect people from health hazards associated with second-hand smoke and prevent the risks that cigarette butts pose to marine life.
The author of one of the bills, Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), said he was disappointed by Brown’s decision. Trying to protect people and wildlife from “poisonous” cigarette butts is hardly coercive, he said in an emailed statement.
“The common person knows these dangers too well, and flippantly dismissing them isn't cool. Even for a governor who is featured in Rolling Stone magazine,” Levine said, referring to an interview with Brown that ran last week in the popular culture biweekly.
Levine’s bill would have established designated smoking areas at some parks and beaches and imposed a fine of $50 on anyone caught lighting up outside of them.
Another bill, by Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), would have banned smoking altogether on state beaches, and established designated smoking zones at state parks. The fine for any violation would have been $100.
Brown and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger both have vetoed similar measures in the past.
Last year, Brown said a smoking ban passed by the Legislature in 2016 was too “broad” and “punitive.”
Beachgoers in southern California, speaking to a reporter before Brown issued Friday’s vetoes, gave mixed reviews to the idea.
“I’m all for banning smoking on the beach. I think it's repulsive,” said MaryAnn Morton, a resident of Orange County’s Huntington Beach who regularly visits the shoreline, including a stretch of state-owned beach where smoking is permitted.
Smoking is already prohibited on the city-controlled portion of the beach, as well as many other locally-managed beaches in California.
Others at Huntington Beach said they didn’t think they would be harmed by second-hand smoke there.
"I don't see how you can get second hand smoke from such a big public place," said Letty Herrera. "I mean look at our neighbors, how they're not that close to us. If I was out here smoking a joint, I don't think they'd smell it."
“Sometimes they ban things without a sole reason," said Jesse Miller, 24, who was drinking with friends on the city-managed stretch of beach. "It feels more for votes.”
Miller admitted he and his friends had just smoked on the city beach, where it is prohibited.
He said the government should focus instead on more significant contributors to poor air quality, such as a nearby industrial plant, and the offshore oil rigs that are visible from Huntington Beach.
"There's pollution being created," Miller said.
Glen Stainer, a cigar-smoking tourist from Pennsylvania, said he could get on board with a smoking ban that allowed for designated areas. But in general, people should not smoke when others are nearby, he said.
Stainer said can understand both sides of the issue: “It’s not fair to have smoke being blown on little children that aren’t asking for that. And yet, a beach should be a public place where I can do what I want.”
This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.