MAUI – High school students, community leaders and environmental groups celebrated Earth Day with the passage of a bill banning tobacco use at all Maui County parks, beaches and recreational facilities. The movement to create smoke-free beaches began in January when a group of high school students led an island-wide cleanup and collected more than 14,000 cigarette butts in under two hours. Students worked with Surfrider’s Maui Chapter, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii and Sustainable Coastlines to organize the cleanup and then present their findings to the Mayor and County Council members.
The passage of the Maui bill was exceptionally fast, with only 42 days separating its introduction and final vote. Andrew O’Riordan, Volunteer Coordinator of Surfrider Maui and a teacher at Maui Preparatory Academy, attributes this feat largely to the involvement of Maui high school students. “Gina Marzo and the other members of Maui District Student Council Organization (MDSCO) spent weekends picking up butts, provided testimony and overall were really integral to the bill’s passage,” O’Riordan said. “I am extremely proud of their effort.”
Cigarette butts are the most commonly littered piece of trash in the environment, with an estimated 4.2 trillion butts littered world wide each year. “Cigarette butts are pervasive, toxic and polluting our oceans and beaches. We are so excited that our county leaders listened and that our efforts paid off!” said Lauren Campbell, Chair of Surfrider Maui Chapter. As part of the Surfrider Foundation’s “Hold on to Your Butts” campaign, chapters have helped to implement similar policies across Hawaii and the country. “O’ahu’s smoke-free beaches bill went into effect just a few months ago so we knew that we had to keep the momentum going,” Campbell added.
“Surfrider encounters cigarette butts all the time at beach cleanups, but we really needed something that would resonate with the Council Members and help them better understand the seriousness of the issue,” stated Tim Lara, Vice Chair of Surfrider Maui. On Earth Day, Council Members were surprised to see a life-sized, bikini clad mannequin outside the County Building lying on a bed of 25,055 cigarette butts. “Unfortunately, this is the current reality,” noted Lara, “our beaches have literally become ashtrays.”
“The bill comes on the heels of a nationwide movement concerned with health and environmental pollutants, which is why it is so fitting that today is Earth Day,” said Council Member Don Guzman, who introduced the bill ad was there to celebrate its passing last week. Council Members honored the efforts of the various environmental and public health organizations who championed the bill in a small ceremony on the lawn of the County Building. Each organization was presented with a native plant, including the Surfrider Foundation, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, B.E.A.C.H., the Pacific Whale Foundation and other groups.
Mayor Arakawa is expected to sign the bill into law on Fri., May 2, but its passage represents only the first step towards ridding Maui’s beaches and parks of cigarette butts. “The bill’s success hinges on public outreach and education,” says Campbell, “so now the real work starts.”
Surfrider’s Maui Chapter will work with Council Members Don Guzman, Elle Cochran, Mike Victorino and Don Couch, as well as all those groups who supported this bill, to educate the public about the bill and help promote the new law.