Gov. Rick Snyder recently announced that he wants to give the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the authority to require that all state-owned and operated beaches be smoke-free. We’re hoping that perhaps a compromise can be reached so that a few legitimate issues can be addressed without an outright prohibition on lighting up at state beaches.
Snyder announced the initiative on Sept. 14, as part of his Special Message to the Legislature on Health and Wellness during a visit to the Heart of the City Health Center in Grand Rapids.
No further details on the proposal have been released.
This isn’t the first time officials in Lansing have tried to snuff out smoking at public beaches. Under Senate Bill (SB) 481, introduced in 2007 by then-state-Sen. Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau), smoking would have been prohibited at all public bathing beaches in the state.
Motivation for the bill stemmed from both cigarette butts being tossed onto beaches and the litter problem that presents, and the second-hand smoke issue. At the time, McManus said littered butts may also pose a safety problem — not-quite-all-the-way-out cigarette butts constitute a burn risk for bare-foot beach users.
SB 481 was never reported out of the Senate Economic Development and Regulatory Reform Committee to the full Senate floor for consideration.
We haven’t been big fans of the state’s new law banning smoking inside public places, since it deprives business owners the ability to decide for themselves whether to ban smoking in their establishments. While we don’t much like the new law, we can understand the health risks associated with second-hand smoke in an enclosed space, which was the chief motivation for the law. And don’t forget: The smoking ban was enacted under the guise of an employee health protection measure, not to protect the general public.
So, it’s another story altogether when the issue is exposure to second-hand smoke outdoors where few if any, in this case, state employees are working. We’re not willing to discount the health risk there, but doubt it’s anything close to as hazardous as indoor exposure.
However, we can see some merit to the littered cigarette butt argument, and even the potential burn risk for beach goers, which the governor’s proposal would address.
We’d like to suggest a compromise: If the DNR is granted the authority to ban smoking at its beaches, require that the department provide a designated smoking area away from the actual beach — perhaps adjacent to the parking lot — where ash cans can be provided to minimize the litter and inadvertent burning issues. That way non-smokers can steer clear of that designated area to address the second-hand smoke issue.