Sand, surf, smoke?

Elizabeth Schaible and Dennis Herzog both of Chesterfield Township smoke while sitting in the sand at the Marine City Beach. Marine City resident Gary Gabler has asked the city to prohibit smoking on the beach.

It sounds pleasant enough: Every morning, Heather Carman carefully combs the Marine City Beach with a keen eye.

But something about the picture isn’t quite right: She’s wearing latex surgical gloves. And instead of collecting rocks or shells, cigarette butts are her bounty.



As a lifeguard at Marine City’s beach, Carman has been saddled with the task of cleaning up the small beach and surrounding park every day.

While it’s commonplace for smokers to flick cigarette butts onto the ground, many beach-goers aren’t enthused – and one Marine City resident is asking city commissioners to ban smoking on the beach all together.

The move would follow a nationwide crackdown on smoking in public.

A Michigan law that bans smoking in workplaces took effect last year. Some states are taking the effort outdoors.

Public smoking bans — some specifically targeting beaches, others parks — are becoming more common.

A proposed law making the rounds in the New York State Assembly would ban smoking at public parks, beaches and even golf courses. The city of Naples, Fla. has taken its fight to ban smoking on its beaches to the state legislature after local attempts failed.

Smokers in New York City can light up in fewer places since a citywide outdoor smoking ban took effect May 23. Those places off-limits to smoking include the city’s 1,700 parks, 14 miles of public beaches and pedestrian plazas like Times Square.

Smoking at public beaches has been banned in Chicago since 2007, and smoking in public parks has been banned in San Francisco; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, New Mexico and Racine, Wis. In California, several Orange County cities — including Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Newport Beach, San Clemente and Huntington Beach — have banned smoking in all public spaces.

A matter of trash

Smoking cigarette on the beach

Smoking cigarette on the beach

Bans aren’t always enacted for the sake of less smoke.

Take Ottawa County. It’s the only county in Michigan to ban smoking on its six public beaches.

John Scholtz, the county’s parks and recreation director, suggested the ban because park employees were expending too many resources picking up cigarette butts.

“It’s not about the right to smoke. It’s about garbage and the cost to clean it up,” county Administrator Al Vanderberg said. “Why pay more money to maintain a beach just so people can smoke on it?”

The county’s commissioners unanimously approved the smoking ban in June 2007. Vanderberg, who’s been the administrator since 2003, said it’s been successful so far.

“Most people have been pleased we’ve put that ban into effect,” he said.

The ban is enforced through signage. Parks department employees at some of the heaviest-used beaches advise people to stop smoking if someone decides to light up anyway. Those who don’t cooperate are met with a sheriff deputy and a ticket.

“We count on people being good citizens,” Vanderberg said.

Smoking on the beach

Smoking on the beach

Nine percent of Ottawa County’s population smokes, Vanderberg said. In St. Clair County, 27% of the population are smokers, according to the St. Clair County Health Department’s 2010 Community Health Assessment Profile.

The Oceanic Conservancy 2011 International Coastal Cleanup collected about 1.18 million pounds of cigarette butts from American coastlines. Of that, 26,735 pounds came from Michigan.

Carman, the Marine City Beach lifeguard, has been working at the beach for about 30 years. Even though she and her fellow lifeguards spend about 20 minutes each morning picking up trash, cigarette butts manage to dot the beach like an ashtray.

“It would be nice if (smokers) were more considerate,” Carman said.

A simple plea

Gary Gabler, a Marine City resident and retired Air Force master sergeant, is a beach lover.

Before moving back to Michigan, Gabler and his wife lived in Florida for 14 years, where they visited the beach nearly every day.

“If I went to bed at night without swimming, I felt I was shortchanged that day,” Gabler said.

Gabler, 75, quit smoking after a heart attack 32 years ago.

“On my way to the hospital, I threw my pack out the window,” he said.

In 1989, while serving at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Gabler petitioned to ban smoking on the base. A year later, a room he said used to be cloudy from aircraft mechanics smoking like chimneys was no more.

While in Florida, Gabler said he helped the American Heart Association petition the state legislature for an indoor smoking ban.

At Marine City’s beach, Gabler said he’s stepped on lit cigarettes that smokers have carelessly flicked away, and his 15-month-old granddaughter has picked them up and tried to eat them. Disgusted, Gabler asked the city commission under the direction of then-Mayor Bob Lepley to support a smoking ban on the beach — and he was met with a positive response — but the commission dissolved before action could be taken.

Gabler has returned to the city commission with his plea in a written letter June 1. He’s asked that the sign outlining beach rules includes “no smoking” and for violators to be fined.

“I’m trying to make the city a better, healthier city to live in,” Gabler said.

Butt out

Dennis Herzog and Elizabeth Schaible, both of Chesterfield Township, enjoyed cigarettes on the Marine City beach June 19.

Herzog said he always remains mindful of those around him by throwing away his butts.

“It wouldn’t bother me,” Herzog said about a smoking ban, noting he is willing to smoke in a separate area.

Christine and Pat Tomasina of New Baltimore also lit up while at the beach that day. Signs posted at the park indicating the area was smoke-free would be enough to keep them from smoking, they said.

Marine City Mayor
Charles Browne said Gabler’s proposal is on the city commission’s July 21 meeting agenda. Although he understands there’s a problem with trash and smoke, enforcing a smoking ban on the beach is “not feasible,” Browne said.

“We want lifeguards to look at the water,” Browne said.

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