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Arnold, Arnold -- beach oil is a 'no,' but tar and nicotine are a 'yes'? [Updated]

May 3, 2010 | 10:37 pm


Arnold Schwarzenegger is worried about the oil that might possibly befoul our beaches at some wretched moment in the future, but not about the tens of millions of cigarette butts that actually do befoul our beaches every hour of every day of every year?

I may be a little dizzy from the governor’s turnabout today, but I am on board with his 180-degree reversal of his position on offshore drilling in California; the oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico proves that five or 10 or 20 years of  a "pretty good" drilling record can’t stay in the game against one gazillion-gallon nightmare mess. It’s like gambling in Vegas – eventually, the odds catch up and beat the light sweet crude out of you.

But at the same time that the governor did a spin on drilling off the California coast, he vetoed a bill to ban smoking on the state’s beaches.

Offshore oil drilling is absolutely and clearly a peril to the environment and to the coastal economy, whether it’s wildlife, tourism or fishing, and in my book it’s all three.

But cigarette butts are the single biggest litter item on our beaches – a quarter of a trillion every year in the U.S., by one reckoning. They and the nicotine in them are a menace to wildlife both on the sand and when they float out to sea and into the food chain, unless you like your swordfish with a big ol’ side of nicotine.

And they’re a menace to the public and to public budgets; more than 120 California cities and counties, including L.A., ban smoking at beaches and parks, in no small part because they’re so expensive to clean up. Think of 250 billion Charlie Chaplins, retrieving one teeny tiny butt at a time.

As the L.A. Times editorial pointed out, "There are times when a day at the beach feels more like a frolic in an ashtray." And who wants to pay for holidays in an ashtray?

I’m far less concerned about the second-hand smoke risk, or the risk of wildfires from beach smoking, than I am about the fact that smokers do indeed use the sands of California like one big ashtray. These are the public’s beaches, not just smokers’, and there are precious few such beaches left after years of real estate predation.

And Schwarzenegger’s veto invokes government intrusion into people’s rights? To do what? Turn beaches into a Marlboro litter box?

It’s beyond me why Schwarzenegger should not regard cigarettes, smoked or discarded or both, as epidemic seaside littering, a continuous and noxious daily intrusion into all of our lives. Is this because the beaches he visits, which I assume are in front of his friends’ beach houses, are less traveled by the public than the places the rest of us go for oceanfront fun and therefore less likely to be despoiled by the discarded dregs of Benson and Hedges.

I know that budgets have ratcheted back enforcement in parks and beyond, but I’d stake a few bucks of my own when it comes to stopping beach smoking, so long as I’d get to dictate what’s on the signs. It's nothing I can print here, but I’d equate the cigarette litterer with a word I’d ask you to use your imagination to think of: a three-letter synonym for ‘’butt,’’ and I don’t mean the smokeable kind.

[Updated 5 p.m.: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office e-mailed me to counter my blog post with the governor's veto remark. A spokesman said the governor understands the challenge that cigarette-butt litter poses to beaches and marine life, but that the bill covers only state beaches and parks, which means a patchwork of smoking regulation; therefore, he thinks increasing fines and penalties for current littering laws would be a better way of dealing with this matter.]

-- Patt Morrison


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