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Stop Smoking on the Pier, Report Urges

By Blair Clarkson
Staff Writer

Feb. 6 -- The City must ban smoking on the Pier to protect the health of residents, reduce fire risks on the wooden structure and minimize environmental damage to beaches and marine life, according to a report presented to the Pier Restoration Corporation board Wednesday night.

Representing Communities Organized Against Smoking and its Trash (COAST), Robert Berger urged the PRC to consider extending the smoking ban in public parks to cover the pier and city beaches, which he says are also being degraded due to discarded cigarette butts.

"The City has a proud heritage of progressive public health and environmental policy," said Berger, and it should expand its efforts because "smokers are not respecting the pier."

In November, the City Council instructed the PRC to assess the impact of smoking on the pier and take a position on a proposed ban. Mayor Richard Bloom intended the proposed ordinance to coincide with a similar law being considered by the LA City Council to ban smoking on all Los Angeles beaches.

The main factor the PRC should consider is the effect of second-hand smoke on pier visitors, said Berger. "There is no safe level of exposure, and it's particularly dangerous to children."

Even outside, second-hand smoke is dangerous in crowded areas near Pacific Park and the Arcade, he said, as well as at Twilight Dance Series events.

"You can't smoke at the Hollywood Bowl," Berger added, "Why should you be able to smoke here."

Concerned residents, area university students and representatives from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and Surfrider Foundation joined the chorus of support for a smoking ban.

"With Southern California already having the worst air quality in the country, we should be doing all we can to improve it," said resident Martin Rubin. "It's a detraction from the experience of going to the pier."

"Second-hand smoke could not be more obnoxious," said Allan Reed, Chair of Malibu Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to preserve the area’s oceans, waves and beaches.

In addition to visitors’ health, Berger noted that cigarettes pose a serious fire risk to the wooden pier and its historic structures. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that fire and wood don't mix," he said.

To emphasize his point, Berger cited a number of alarming statistics compiled by Pier staff last May. In a single year, the Harbor Patrol responded to 450 cigarette-related fires on the pier, 15 of which were deemed "substantial." Nine required assistance from the fire department.

Additionally, there are more than 125 burn holes on the pier caused by discarded cigarette butts, according to Berger.

"The smokers' outposts are hard to find and not clearly marked," he said, pointing to slide images of cigarette butts strewn about various areas of the pier and filling the cracks between boards.

Consequently "cigarettes that aren't dropped onto the pier are simply flicked into the ocean," Berger said, stressing the environmental impact of cigarette trash. "People look over the side of the pier and say 'that looks like a big ashtray.'"

As heads around the room shook in disgust, two COAST volunteers produced several large plastic bins filled with hundreds of butts picked up off the pier and from the surrounding beach.

"Cigarette litter is the number one piece of debris that we clean up on beaches," said Reed, adding that the non-biodegradable butts are constantly being picked up by children and ingested by marine life and birds. "It's unsightly and disgusting."

Addressing prior concerns expressed by pier officials and business owners that a smoking ban could deter visitors, Berger echoed the sentiments of Mayor Bloom in November that the smoking ban has not impacted City park visitors and won't impact this popular tourist draw either.

"Studies have shown that smoke-free policies in California and New York do not adversely affect restaurant and bar business," he noted.

Other California communities are moving forward with smoke-free beach laws including cities in Orange County and the South Bay. Venice and Seal Beach, which also has a wooden pier, have banned smoking completely on their piers.

Solana Beach, which became the first smoke-free beach in California, was inspired by Santa Monica's decision to ban smoking in parks, according to Berger.

"Public policy is moving in a very positive direction for the good of families," he said. "We hope that Santa Monica maintains its leadership position on public health issues."

Although no formal action was taken at Wednesday's meeting, the PRC is expected to take a position on the proposed ban before the ordinance returns to the Council early this year.

"I challenge you to be a leader," added Reed. "One day you'll look back on it and say, 'I can't believe we use to let people smoke on the pier.'"
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