A store window in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood advertising both conventional and electronic cigarettes. (Erik Lukens/The Oregonian)
Common sense appears to have stalled a proposed smoking ban on Oregon’s beaches, which cover roughly three billion miles of coastline … give or take. But “stalled” and “eliminated” are two different things entirely, and smokers can expect the effort to resume if they continue to use the sand as an ashtray.
The anti-smoking push began with a 2012 executive order in which Gov. John Kitzhaber called for a tobacco ban on state properties, including, he hoped, “state parks and recreation areas to address wellness issues, and to reduce the risk of forest fires.”
Translating this call to action into a smoking ban on beaches – which have few trees and vast areas for smoke to dissipate – has always been a stretch even without considering the impossibility of enforcement.
Of course, the beach ban was never primarily about smoking per se, says Oregon Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Chris Havel.
Rather, it was about littering, and many of those commenting on the proposal expressed frustration with the nasty little surprises tossed, seemingly without qualms, in the sand. If smokers refuse to recognize rules prohibiting littering, the thinking went, then why not ban smoking entirely? That’ll show ’em.
There are plenty of reasons not to take this step, ranging, again, from impracticality to the fact that smokers would be singled out for a problem – littering – that isn’t limited to cigarette butts.
In their recommendation for the Nov. 19 meeting of the parks commission, in fact, department officials note that the coastal shore is the destination for debris from various places, including “coastal communities, and human activity in the coastal and Columbia River watersheds.” And then there are various forms of waste left behind by other beach visitors — including furry ones with four legs.
What parks department officials will recommend this month in the place of a smoking ban is an education campaign, accompanied by better signage and new receptacles at strategic locations. If the cigarette-butt problem doesn’t abate within a couple of years, the smoking-ban machinery will begin anew.
This approach is certainly more sensible than imposing an immediate ban that would not be enforceable. But will simply reminding smokers more creatively and conspicuously of what they already know – that they shouldn’t litter – affect behavior significantly?
That’s a little hard to believe, just as it’s hard to believe that installing receptacles here and there will dissuade smokers so inclined from grinding their butts into the sand.
Such efforts certainly can’t hurt, but change has to begin with smokers themselves. They must realize that littering will invite regulation at some point even if it accomplishes nothing. Packing out cigarette butts is the obvious solution. Another is to use electronic cigarettes at the beach.
No, we’re not shills for the vaping industry, but even disposable e-cigarettes last a whole lot longer than conventional cigarettes and, when spent, present fewer disposal challenges.
They’re neither smoldering nor ash-tipped and are, therefore, more compatible with pockets. Finally, smokers who wouldn’t hesitate to toss a paper-wrapped cigarette butt in the sand might think twice before doing the same with a relatively large tube.
Parks officials can help encourage smoking alternatives by – gasp! – actively encouraging them. Government entities are often loathe to differentiate between cigarettes, which produce smoke and butts, and e-cigarettes, which produce neither, because doing so seems like a form of backsliding, even surrender.
Thus, you get ill-considered bans on even e-cigarettes in public parks in places like Forest Grove andHillsboro.
But they are different, especially when it comes to litter. So why not acknowledge it and encourage the use that best addresses the problem?
To encourage smokers to change their behavior, government agencies will have to change theirs, exempting users of e-cigarettes from an official regime of public shaming and, increasingly, banishment.
Will thinking outside the ashtray in this fashion produce results, on ocean beaches or elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not. But state officials can be sure that simply banning smoking on beaches will flop, whether they do it now or in two years.