California lawmakers on Monday moved a step closer to banning smoking at state beaches and parks, following the lead of hundreds of communities nationwide.
The state Assembly voted 42-27 in favor of the ban. Anti-smoking groups say the bill would make California the first state to ban smoking throughout its entire park system if it is signed into law.
The Senate passed it previously but must agree to amendments made in the Assembly before it is sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not taken a position on it.
The Assembly vote, taken without comment, came days after the bill failed to garner enough support, in part because about a dozen Democrats failed to vote last week.
The bill's author, state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, said she wants to keep cigarette butts out of the ocean, reduce the threat of wildfires at parks and eliminate second-hand smoke.
"Unfortunately, too many beach visitors are irresponsible with their smoking habit," Oropeza said in a statement following the Assembly vote. "Our majestic beaches and parks have been marred by cigarette butts for far too long."
Maine is the only other state to ban smoking at its state beaches. Nationwide, nearly 100 cities prohibit smoking at beaches, while more than 400 local governments ban smoking at municipal parks.
No state bans smoking throughout its state parks, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that tracks such bans.
Even if the bill becomes law, not all areas of a California state park and beach would be smoke-free. Smokers could still light up in parking lots and campsites.
In Orange County, cities have banned smoking on their beaches but provided few ashtrays or receptacles for smokers to throw away their cigarettes, said Stephanie Barger, executive director at the nonprofit Earth Resource Foundation based in Costa Mesa.
"They find a lot less cigarette butts, so we do know (the ban's) working," she said. "However, there are still thousands of cigarettes littered every day."
Cigarettes are the No. 1 item collected by volunteers at beach clean-up days throughout the U.S., according to the Ocean Conservancy.
Under the California bill, smoking in prohibited areas would be an infraction punishable with a $100 fine.
Any state park that does not have the money to buy no-smoking signs alerting visitors to the rules would be exempt, although some parks already ban smoking during fire season. It's not clear how many of California's 279 state parks would be unable to erect such signs.
About 3 percent of wildfires are caused by cigarettes each year in California, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
At least one tobacco company, Commonwealth Brands, opposes the ban, arguing it would infringe on smokers' rights.
Republicans, who have benefited the most from tobacco industry campaign contributions, complained the bill would punish all smokers and said it should have been targeted at those who litter.
Altria Group Inc., parent company of Philip Morris, has been a big player in Republican Party politics in California. It has given $3.2 million to Republican candidates and committees since 2005, compared with $252,500 to Democrats, according to state campaign finance records.
Altria spokesman David Sutton said the company has not taken a position on the bill.
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