A law that could go a long way toward improving the environmental quality in the state’s recreational areas took another step closer to fruition after the California Assembly approved a plan to prohibit smoking at state beaches and designated areas of state parks Monday, March 22nd.

Senate Bill (SB) 4 would establish a fine of up to $100 for smoking at a state beach or park.

“Unfortunately, too many beach visitors are irresponsible with their smoking habit,” said Sen. Jenny Oropeza, the author of the legislation. “Our majestic beaches and parks have been marred by cigarette butts for far too long.”

An earlier vote on March 18th did not pass due to the absence of some members of the Assembly.

Oropeza’s “No Smoking at State Parks and Beaches Act” came after the bill was amended to allow the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which cited enforcement concerns, to designate areas where smoking is banned. Smoking would still be allowed in most campsites and parking lot areas.

“As a representative of the 28th Senate District, I have a responsibility to protect our beautiful coastline from Venice to Long Beach and beyond,” Oropeza, whose district includes Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Venice, stated.

Oropeza cited several additional reasons to support her bill.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, in 2003 smoking-related items (in the form of cigarette filters, cigar tips, tobacco packaging, and cigarette lighters) accounted for 38 percent of all debris items found on beaches in the United States.

Officials at the California Department of Forestry said that over the last five years, smoking has been found to annually cause more than 100 California forest fires and destroy more than 3,400 acres.

Banning smoking at beaches has become a popular cause for California’s coastal communities. More than 100 local governments statewide have already imposed smoking bans, including bans in local parks, beaches and piers in Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Malibu, Newport Beach, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Seal Beach and Solana Beach.

Supporting Oropeza’s bill were state firefighters, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

The senator has long tackled smoking restrictions and environmental causes.

Senate Bill 7, which outlaws smoking in cars with children, was enacted on January 1st, 2008. It applies to any car with a youth younger than the age of 18 and subjects the smoker to a $100 fine.

In January 2007, Oropeza’s measure banning smoking in common-use areas such as covered parking lots and the adjacent stairwells, lobbies, lounges, waiting areas, elevators and restrooms also took effect.

SB 4 now returns to the Senate. If approved, it would then go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.