County measure would cut smokers’ fresh air 

An ordinance approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors would snuff out smoking at parks and beaches owned and maintained by the county in response to health and pollution concerns.

The ordinance, which comes back for a final vote Feb. 13 and could take effect as soon as March 8, would expand an existing ordinance that already bans smoking within 30 feet of county government buildings and in the common area of apartments, officials said.

The proposed ban is the last in a string of measures by the county, area cities such as Belmont and Burlingame, and the local community college district to clamp down on secondhand smoke.

Smokers caught breaking the law could be fined $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for each subsequent offense within a year, Brenda Carlson of the county Counsel’s Office said.

While the dangers of secondhand smoke are well-documented, government agencies have so far failed to clamp down on smoking in outdoor areas, according to Supervisor Rich Gordon, who sponsored the ordinance. In addition, health risks associated with discarded cigarette butts on park playgrounds and on beaches have often been overlooked, he said.

"I’ve been consistently surprised that the No. 1 item of litter collected on Coastal Cleanup Day each year are cigarette butts from people who think that the sand on our beaches is one big ashtray," Gordon said.

An average 230,000 cigarette butts are collected on California beaches during the annual Coastal Cleanup Day, according to, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting oceans and beaches. Cigarette butts contain more than 165 chemicals, including many known toxins such as benzopyrene, arsenic, lead and formaldehyde.

"Cigarette butts are a huge problem when it comes to beach and water cleanliness," said Adam Berke, chairman of the San Francisco branch of

Burlingame resident and smoker Howard Chau said he supports the ordinance.

"Usually, I don’t smoke at those areas anyway because it can affect other people," Chau said.

Karen Licavoli, co-chair of the San Mateo County TobaccoEducation Coalition with the nonprofit Breathe California, has called the proposed ordinance a good idea, since more than 80 percent of Californians don’t smoke.

"We’re not anti-smoker, we’re just anti-smoke," Licavoli said.

Smoking rights advocates, including Robert Best, California coordinator for The Smoker’s Club, say such ordinances demonize smokers and unfairly discriminate.

"I have a huge problem with that [ordinance] because I pay taxes to maintain parks and beaches," he said.

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