Keep those butts off our beaches

Southeastern Connecticut’s beaches are among its best assets. They are places of peaceful contemplation, relaxation and joyful play.

They should not be places that pose a public health risk. Yet allowing smoking and tobacco products at public beaches and parks does just that, not simply by exposing beach-goers to secondhand smoke, but by exposing both humans and wildlife to the at-best nasty and unsightly, and at-worst toxic qualities of discarded cigarette butts.

Old Lyme officials currently are moving to remove this risk for the public who enjoy beaches and parks in that town. This is a smart move.

The health risks of secondhand smoke are well-documented and the public has long been aware of them. The lethal substances found in secondhand smoke are startling. These include arsenic, ammonia, lead and acetone.

Less recognized are the risks posed by discarded cigarette butts. Certainly one risk is the burn potential to those who generally walk barefooted at the beach. Hot butts also can cause fires.

There’s more danger in butts than this obvious threat, however. These tiny pieces of trash pack an outsized amount of toxins within them, toxins frequently ingested by birds, fish and other wildlife. They leach heavy chemicals and metals into the environment and the plastic filters present in the vast majority of butts are ingested by fish and birds.

Although an individual cigarette butt may seem rather innocuous, environmental and anti-smoking groups estimate that litter from cigarette butts adds up to some 1.69 billion pounds worldwide and 176 million pounds in the U.S. annually. Butts make up a third of all trash found on beaches. Beach cleanup days typically recover bucket loads of butts.

Numerous shoreline communities already prohibit smoking on their beaches and in public parks, although enforcement can be difficult. In some cases there is no penalty. A 2013 state report by the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program of the Connecticut Department of Public Health listed a dozen municipalities with tobacco and smoke-free parks policies. Locally, New London, Groton, East Lyme, Ledyard and Montville were among these.

By this summer, Old Lyme is expected to join the list. It makes sense for all Connecticut communities to find a way to keep their parks and beaches tobacco free. Two states – Maine and Oregon – have regulations banning smoking at state-owned parks and beaches. It’s time Connecticut follows that lead, making state public recreation spots as healthy places as possible.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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