California beach smoking ban measures face uncertainty with Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed attempt last year

Key Points
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill last year that sought to ban smoking on state beaches and parks, and now he's got new bills on his desk attempting to do essentially the same thing.
  • Proponents see the measures as a way to reduce the danger of second-hand smoke and to cut down on the problem of cigarette waste on state beaches.
  • Meantime, New Jersey's smoking ban on state beaches goes into effect in 2019 and now there's an effort to expand it to boardwalks.
Katrin Engel | EyeEm | Getty Images

An effort to ban smoking from state beaches and parks went up in smoke last year when California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the measure as "too broad." But the legislature last month passed several new bills with different approaches to tackling the issue of second-hand smoke —and now it's up to Brown whether to sign or reject them.

One of the bills on Brown's desk, Assembly Bill 1097, would ban smoking or vaping only in designated picnic areas of state beaches and parks. The bill also slaps a fine of $25 for smoking in picnic areas or littering beaches in the Golden State with cigarette waste.

The measure Brown vetoed last year was broader and barred smoking or vaping even in areas of state beaches that were not designated as picnic space. In vetoing last year's bill, the Democratic governor said: "If people can't smoke even on a deserted beach, where can they? There must be some limits to the coercive power of government."

In contrast, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill in July to ban smoking on state beaches and parks. "We're not just taking action on a critical health issue in our state, but a critical environmental issue," Murphy said the day he signed the bill.

The New Jersey smoking ban on state beaches and parks goes into effect next year. But already there is also an effort to expand the Garden State's smoking ban to apply to boardwalks.

Meantime, California's governor has until Sept. 30 to decide on the AB-1097 and two other bills that involve the smoking issue on state parks or beaches. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on his position on the measures.

California Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Marin County, told CNBC in an interview that Brown was "quite flippant" in his veto message last year. However, Levine, who introduced AB-1097, said the new bill is more focused so he's hopeful it will get the governor's signature.

"We shouldn't be flippant about the dangers of second-hand smoke," Levine said. "We know it causes cancer and cancer kills. We also know that cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals into our environments and to wildlife."

At the same time, Levine said AB-1097 could help prevent wildfires by eliminating cigarette butts in designated areas. California has suffered several catastrophic fires in the past year, including wildfires over the summer that closed state parks in northern and southern portions of the state.

Levine said his bill focuses on designated picnic areas within state parks and beaches so it's "just like restaurants where people are not allowed to smoke. And bringing this type of law into law to protect these spaces from the dangers of cigarette butts and second-hand smoke makes sense. It's a logical next step."

Two other smoking measures in California are Senate Bills 835 and 836, which both passed the state legislature late last month.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette litter continues to be the most commonly found waste item on beaches. In 2015, the nonprofit environmental group estimated over 2 million pieces of cigarette butt litter were retrieved from U.S. beaches.

SB-836, introduced by Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) would fine people $25 for smoking in state beaches or for improperly disposing of used cigarettes or cigars. It would also allow the state to exempt some areas of the park from smoking prohibition. Similarly, SB-835 would carry the same restrictions but apply solely to state parks.

"Any measure that would reduce the actual amount of smoking on the beach – and the related debris – is a great thing in our eyes," said Matthew King, a spokesman for Heal the Bay, a nonprofit group focused on Greater LA's coastal waters and watersheds. "It will improve public health and the health of our shorelines."