Keep your butts off the beach

By Stephanie Saviola

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a smoking ban at city parks and beaches early last week, and the news has caused a bit of an uproar.

There was a great wave of negative responses from those who oppose the ban, understandably so. People feel like their rights are being taken away, but only to some extent. There are plenty of areas designated for smoking, which include thousands of sidewalks that will probably remain littered with cigarette butts. Or even homes, where secondhand smoke can harm no one but smokers.

Here in Chicago, a similar ban has been in place since October 2007, after the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners passed a measure that prohibits smoking on beaches and playgrounds. However, I’ve been to city beaches dozens of times and encountered plenty of people smoking and dumping cigarettes in the sand as well.

There’s a ton of fuss regarding the NYC ban, but it’s been establashed in Chicago for more than three years with a $500 fine for anyone caught smoking or littering butts within 15 feet of a beach.

Walking on the sand is one of my favorite aspects of going to the beach, but it makes me cringe when I walk barefoot and step on cigarette butts littered along the shore.

According to, cigarette butts are the No. 1 item found during beach cleanup. Secondhand smoke isn’t the only thing affecting people and animals; heavy metals and organic compounds from used cigarette filters can create toxicity in the marine environment.

Those caught smoking in New York could face fines up to $50, and NYC officials claim they are not in it to write tickets or

collect revenue. I’m sure it’s partly a load of crap when they say it isn’t to make money, but I think there’s some truth to it as well.

Even so, a $50 fine is a small price to pay compared to Chicago’s $500 fine.  If people didn’t carelessly toss their cigarettes on the ground, then silly restrictions and fines wouldn’t have to exist.

Just like increasing sales taxes on cigarettes, more smoking fines and bans in certain locations could help decrease the number of overall smokers, which will only have a positive impact on people’s health and the environment.

In 2002, New York pushed to have smoking banned in bars and restaurants and was successful. Several years later, Chicago followed with the same initiative. Who misses smelling smoke while he or she enjoys a meal? Most smokers don’t even miss it.

Every opportunity should be taken to protect the little sanctuaries, such as parks and beaches tucked away between the hustle and bustle and pollution of

major cities.