LIHUE — While those caught using tobacco products at two county parks can now face fines, the tobacco-free status is more about changing society’s views than issuing citations.
“It’s about the movement toward where not smoking is the norm,” said Valerie Saiki, community coordinator with the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii under the Hawaii Health Institute.
Poipu Beach Park recently came on board as the second on Kauai to go tobacco free, joining Lydgate Beach Park.
Since Lydgate Beach Park became tobacco free in 2016, no citations for smoking or using tobacco products have been issued.
On Kauai, 15 percent of adults reported being current tobacco users.
Kapaa resident Michelle Blake agrees with the new law.
“This is great. Less rubbish and more pleasant air to breath,” she said.
Oregon resident Sharon Vo visits Kauai twice a year and Poipu Beach Park is one of her favorite beaches. She’s thankful it’s tobacco free.
“So often we are sitting there and a big cloud of cigarette smoke comes billowing by. We have always wondered if it was a smoke-free beach, but have never seen anything posted. So happy it will finally be,” she said.
Another visitor Cheryl Gilbert, said she loves the concept of tobacco-free beaches.
“I hate being at a beautiful beach and smelling smoke, or finding cigarette butts on the sand,” she said.
Saiki said tobacco is the number one preventable cause of death in the United States and the world. Tobacco is the cause of 480,000 deaths per year in the United States and in Hawaii, 1,400 adults die each year from a tobacco related illness, she said.
Because Poipu Beach Park has been voted many times as a family destination park, Saiki said the coalition knew it needed to be protected.
The park’s tobacco free status isn’t just about protecting humans, it’s also about protecting wildlife such as sea turtles and monk seals that frequent the beaches, the local ecosystem and the watershed.
“Every year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered, making it the most littered item,” she said.
For Kauai, Saiki said about 26,000 pounds of cigarette butts are disposed of each year through littering or thrown in the landfill.
“Those toxins leak into the ground and make their way into our waterways,” she said, which is another reason why it’s important to prohibit tobacco usage in county beach parks.
Waimea resident Liz Hahn said it’s not just about the smoke.
“Smokers typically discard their cigarette butts by dropping them on the ground or flicking them from their vehicles. Clearing beaches and roadsides is often performed by volunteers,” she said.
Smoking is a hard habit to break, Hahn said.
“I hope one-day people will be able to put consideration for others higher in their priorities. In the meantime, mahalo to our government for taking steps that will benefit our community,” she said.
In a Facebook comment about Poipu Beach now being tobacco free, Kauai resident Robert Zelkovsky said people going to the beach have a reasonable expectation to enjoy clean air and water.
“I’m glad the government protects us in that way,” he said.
Visiting from San Jose, California, Julie Hughes and her husband were spending their day at Lydgate Monday.
“Love it. I don’t need to smell smoke and we’re out here in the rawest form of nature and you definitely don’t need to have cigarette butts in the sand and people smoking around me,” she said.
Chris Hughes said it’s fantastic having the beaches being tobacco free. He wishes California would follow Kauai’s example.
“No secondhand smoke to worry about and it’s very apparent the lack of cigarette butts on the beach,” he said.
Visiting from Butte, Montana, Leroy Coles said he agrees with smoke-free beaches.
“Shouldn’t be smoking from the beach anyway,” he said.
Wailua Homestead resident Jane Uniack said she started smoking cigarettes at the age of 14, but no longer smokes them. Instead, she smokes e-cigarettes.
“I’m super happy about this. Nothing more annoying than smoke stinking up the beautiful fresh air,” she said.
Uniack said she stopped smoking tobacco cigarettes seven years ago when her mom and 99-year-old grandmother came to visit.
“I decided to switch to an electronic cigarette that didn’t smell for a week, so I wouldn’t have to listen to them nagging me the entire visit, she said.
After that week, Uniack said she was no longer coughing or smelly, so she never took up tobacco cigarettes again and only uses her e-cigarettes at home.
“I know the electronic ones can be just as annoying to people as regular cigarettes, so that’s why I don’t use them in public areas,” she said.
Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, 652-7891, email@example.com