By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 5-year-old tobacco use ban at Hawaii Island beaches and parks has made a noticeable impact on the quality of the environment at isle recreation areas, according to county officials.
Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the Hawaii County tobacco ban at all county parks. It was the first such countywide ban to be approved in the state, and came about only after council members voted to override then-Mayor Harry Kim’s veto of the bill, which affects all 191 of the county’s parks, gymnasiums and recreational facilities. On Thursday, a Honolulu City Council committee voted to give preliminary approval for a similar smoking ban at all 293 city parks and beaches.
Enforcement of the Big Island’s ban came on slowly at first, with county police reporting only a single issuance of a citation within a year of the ban being enacted. A lack of signage was identified at the time as preventing police from enforcing the ordinance.
“Every public place and place of employment where smoking is prohibited by this article shall have posted at every entrance a conspicuous sign clearly stating that smoking is prohibited,” the county law reads.
Since the first year, however, more signage has been added to parks and facilities around the island, thanks largely to a 100-sign donation from the Tobacco-Free East Hawaii Coalition in 2010. Between April 22, 2008, and this past Sunday, Hawaii County Police Department issued 51 citations in total for tobacco use at parks and recreational properties, according to a department spokeswoman.
On the whole, county residents have accepted the tobacco ban with open arms, and are largely working to police themselves, said Lt. John Briski of Hawaii County Police Department’s Community Policing Division.
“Our whole community have become more aware of these issues, and are more aware of the negative side of smoking,” he said Thursday. “They’re more conscious of where you can and cannot smoke. And, being in Hawaii, we’re already very conscious of people around us anyway. People don’t want to bother people around them.”
Twenty-four-year-old Jayson Castillo was smoking a cigarette Thursday afternoon as he played with his friend’s dogs in the water at Kealoha Beach Park, also known as Four Mile, in Hilo. He admitted that he knew smoking there was against county ordinance, but he felt like as long as he wasn’t smoking around anyone, he wasn’t creating too much of a disturbance.
“I feel it’s not a big deal as long as I’m away from other people, and kids,” he said. “Normally, I try and stay away from people when I’m smoking.”
Castillo said he agrees that the smoking ban is needed, especially for the sake of other people trying to quit.
“I’m trying to quit. I’m looking at getting that e-cigarette,” he said. “And I know, it can be a tease for other people to be around it. I think it (the ban) is pretty good.”
On Thursday, Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman Jason Armstrong said that the public has shown a willingness to follow the county ordinance, although there is still room for improvement.
“Our experience has been that compliance has been very good at inside facilities, such as gymnasiums and community centers, however, we would like to remind people that the ban extends to all park areas, including ball fields, camp grounds, parking lots and other outside areas,” he said.
He added that, with the summer months rapidly approaching, county residents should keep children in mind.
“… We’ll have a lot of people, including children, at our parks, and we wanted to remind people of the smoking ban so that we can have the best environment possible for the children,” he said.
Creating an environment like that means more than just preventing smoke in the air, said Sally Ancheta, of the Tobacco-Free East Hawaii Coalition. It means preventing children from seeing smoking as an acceptable behavior. And, she said, keeping the ground and water free of messy cigarette butts.
“Before the ban, we had a clean-up at Richardson’s (Beach Park) in Hilo, and we found more than 1,500 butts at Richardson’s. But then, in 2011 (after the ban was in effect), we had an Earth Day celebration and clean-up, and we found eight cigarette butts total,” she said.
Ancheta admitted that the public’s adherence to the ordinance at other locations isn’t always at the same level, however.
“We didn’t see the same kind of response at Isaac Hale and Whittington Beach Park. I think a lot of it depends on signage, and whether people are aware of it (the ban),” she said.
To help with community awareness, Tobacco Free Hawaii is working to help supply the county with more signs, of which it has requested about 400, Ancheta said.
“These areas, these parks and beaches, we’re talking about a large area. There’s many entrances, and we want visibility,” she said.
In an effort to continue to spread the word, Ancheta and other members of the coalition helped to hand out bottles of bubble solution and asked people to blow bubbles instead of lighting cigarettes while visiting county parks on Earth Day, which was held on Monday.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.