HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Smoking has been prohibited on all O'ahu city and county beaches since January 1, 2014. Now state lawmakers are introducing a bill to expand the ban to every island.
House Bill 325 would outlaw smoking on all public beaches in Hawai'i.
"This is a huge public issue and I think it will cover every island, every shoreline – so it's a pretty massive undertaking and I think it's time for that discussion," said Representative Cindy Evans, the House Water and Land Committee Chair who introduced the bill.
"It would be just an amazing thing if you all could take the lead on this and just have a policy across the state," said Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation, who testified in support of the measure during a hearing at the Capitol Wednesday.
Few people signed up to oppose the measure, but no one spoke publicly against it. In the past, opposition has varied from smoker's rights to the negative impact it could have on tourism – specifically visitors from Asia.
"They still smoke a lot, but there are lots of rules and regulations against it. If you go to Korea, Japan or China you'll find lots of people not smoking because of bans in various public areas. So, what would the impact of banning it here be? I think it would be good to ban it because it would position Hawai'i as an environmentally friendly state that's taking this measure to stomp out this horrible problem that we have," explained supporter Richard Fassler, who formerly worked for state's Department of Business and has been a long-time advocate for similar previous measures.
Lawmakers say the challenge they face is defining exactly which areas this would impact.
"People could go out stand in the sandy water smoking their cigarette and throw their butt in the water, so the question is do we define public beach to where it actually goes out to what they call the toe where the rocks start? I think that's reasonable to consider that," explained Evans (D – Kaupulehu, Waimea, Halaula).
Another element lawmakers have to consider is whether the ban should include e-cigarettes, which are currently not regulated. Health experts say the nicotine in them is toxic and they're concerned about the empty cartridges.
"Poison control centers have been getting calls about children ingesting those and because they have high concentrations of nicotine those are also things we don't want to see littering our beaches and our parks," explained Lola Irvin, the state Department of Health's Tobacco Settlement Project Manager.
Representative Kaniela Ing introduced a similar bill last session and hopes this measure will succeed.
"Smoke free beaches will promote good health, it will protect our fragile delicate marine ecosystems and it will preserve the beautiful aesthetic of our shorelines that Hawaii's known for," described Ing (D – South Maui).
Ing says during a recent beach clean-up on Maui more than 14,000 cigarette butts were picked up in less than two hours. Suzanne Frazer, of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii, says it is "dangerous, toxic litter that is especially harmful to young children and marine life" if they ingest it.
Both the House Water and Land and Hawaiian Affairs committees will vote on the bill Friday. If it passes, it then goes to the House Judiciary Committee.