Legislation introduced by State Senator Jenny Oropeza that would make it unlawful to smoke at California parks and beaches passed the state Senate on May 15th.

“From day one, this measure has been built on two pillars — education and prevention,” said Oropeza, the day after Senate Bill 4’s passage.

A similar measure failed to garner sufficient support among legislators in 2006, but Oropeza was thrilled that her Senate colleagues saw the merits of her bill this time.

“It’s a different group of legislators now,” the senator noted. “I’m very happy that they felt that this is a bill that has a tremendous public benefit.”

Known as the No Smoking at State Parks and Beaches Act, the proposed law would establish a fine of $250 for smoking at these state-owned properties.

More than 100 local governments statewide have already imposed smoking bans in local parks, beaches and piers, including Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Malibu.

Several environmental organizations, including the Ocean Protection Council and Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, back Oropeza’s legislation.

“It’s very exciting to have so many wonderful environmental groups supporting us,” Oropeza said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined cigarette butts to be the most frequently found marine debris item in the United States, and reducing the level of this toxin in the ocean is one of the primary reasons for the legislation.

“In our beach cleanups, cigarette litter is not only what we find the most in the ocean but also on our beaches,” Sonia Diaz, Heal the Bay’s legislative analyst, confirmed. “When you don’t have smokers on the beach, that is one more step toward keeping cigarette litter off the beach.”

Smoking-related debris poses a persistent and serious threat to marine life and beachgoers over California’s 1,100 miles of coastline, according to the Ocean Conservancy, an organization that opposes practices that threaten both ocean and human life.

In addition, cigarette butts are not biodegradable and can harm the ecosystem, as they contain more than 165 chemicals.

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown applauded the passage of SB 4.

“All Californians can breathe easier now that Sacramento is clearing the air at parks and beaches statewide,” the councilman said.

Santa Monica has been very proactive regarding the prohibition of smoking in city facilities and in its restaurants.

“In 2003, Santa Monica banned smoking in our parks, and in 2004 we extended that to our beaches,” McKeown noted.

According to the California Department of Forestry, over a five-year average, smoking has been found to annually cause more than 100 California forest fires and destroy more than 3,400 acres.

“(Cigarettes) are fire hazards in our state parks,” Oropeza said. “I don’t think many in the public realize how often a discarded cigarette or cigar can cause a fire.”

McKeown believes that while some may disagree with his city’s proactive positions on crafting ordinances relating to environmental health, they eventually are adopted by other municipalities and often by the state government.

“Sometimes people wonder whether Santa Monica goes too far out on the environmental limb, but time and again our pioneering actions find broader acceptance,” he said.

SB 4 will now move to the Assembly.