State Sen. Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach introduced a bill that will prohibit smoking at state beaches throughout California, the same day that she was named to the Senate Rules Committee. Oropeza represents some of the Argonaut coverage area south of Santa Monica.

Senate Bill (SB) 4 would make the act of smoking on state beaches and parks illegal. The proposed legislation would make it an infraction for a person to smoke, as defined, a pipe, cigar, or cigarette on a state coastal beach or in a unit of the state park system.

“We’re beginning to build our coalitions to support us on this important piece of legislation,” Oropeza told The Argonaut on December 2nd, the day following the bill’s introduction on the Senate floor.

Under existing law, a person who smokes a cigarette, cigar, or other tobacco-related product within 25 feet of a playground or tot lot sandbox area may be cited with an infraction.

SB 4 would establish a state-mandated local program by creating a new crime. It would permit the Department of Parks and Recreation and other state agencies to develop and post signs at a state coastal beach or a unit of the state park system to provide notice of the smoking prohibition.

The state Department of Parks and Recreation has not taken an official position on SB 4, “but we would probably not object to a bill like this if it were to pass the Senate,” said Roy Stearns, the agency’s deputy director of communications.

Oropeza mentioned the rash of forest fires that have ravaged the Southland in recent years and pointed out that some of them could be attributed to carelessly discarded cigarettes.

“Fires in our state parks have been caused by cigarettes,” the senator noted. “This bill could help our courageous firefighters as well by helping to prevent these costly fires.”

Cities across Southern California such as Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach have already banned smoking on public beaches. Last month, Redondo Beach joined other beachside communities in implementing laws against smoking at public beaches.

Santa Monica, in fact, is seeking to extend its prohibition on smoking to indoor and outdoor common areas of multi-unit residential housing. The Santa Monica City Council will consider the matter next year.

Callie Hurd, Santa Monica’s open space manager, said the city has an operating agreement with the state that allows the city government to manage Santa Monica State Beach, and since the Santa Monica City Council has already instituted a municipal ban on smoking in parks and beaches, SB 4 would not affect Santa Monica Beach.

Oropeza said that she would be working with other health organizations as well, including the Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.

Kirsten James, the water quality director at Heal the Bay, said SB 4 is a bill that her organization could support, especially because it has the potential to help protect the state’s beaches and consequently the ocean.

“We think that it’s definitely an important bill for helping to rid our beaches of unsightly debris like cigarette butts,” said James.

Although plastic is routinely cited as one of the primary pollutants of the ocean, cigarettes and cigars can be as harmful to marine life.

“Our organization does hundreds of beach cleanups around the state, and time and time again, cigarette butts are the number-one form of debris that we see during our cleanup efforts,” James noted.

Oropeza, a cancer survivor, said that the bill is special to her, not only for a health perspective for her constituents but also from a personal standpoint.

“This is an important bill that will really benefit the environment and help to keep our beautiful beaches and parks cleaner,” she said. “But as a result of my personal experience, I have tried to take the initiative to sponsor this kind of legislation. So, yes, SB 4 is very important to me.”

The anti-smoking legislation ties into a recently released report from state Ocean Protection Council that many environmental groups support.

The report outlines an action plan for eliminating plastic bags, polystyrene food packaging, cigarette butts and other harmful debris from entering the Pacific Ocean statewide.

“We expect this report to be a significant boost to the environmental community’s ongoing fight to rid our seas of unsightly and harmful trash,” said Mark Gold, president of Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay.

There are four areas of concern that the action plan identifies, and one calls for a smoking ban on all state beaches and the installation of cigarette butt receptacles at transition points to reduce the amount of cigarette litter.

“[SB 4] is definitely in line with what the Ocean Protection Council has recommended,” said James.

Oropeza has been successful in her earlier efforts to ban smoking in other areas of everyday living. In 2006, when she was a member of the Assembly, Oropeza sponsored legislation that prohibits smoking in elevators and stairwells in parking garages. And last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed her bill that bans smoking in a car when there is a minor present.

The senator was named to the Senate Rules Committee on December 1st by new Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. The committee is responsible for the Senate’s daily operations.

“I’m very excited to be a part of Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg’s new leadership,” Oropeza said. “This is going to be a great challenge, and I look forward to it and to working with the new Senate leadership.”