Lawmakers considering smoking ban at NH beaches

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 11:10 AM

Surfer Michael Sander believes firmly in New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" state motto when it comes to smoking _ and that includes his right to smoke on state beaches.

Sander, 24 of Rye, surfs regularly at North Beach and says he would not obey a proposed law to ban smoking on the beach to eliminate second-hand smoke and discarded butts.

"Ban the tourists," Sander said. "They're the ones that litter. We put our butts in our pockets. ... It's ridiculous that anyone can tell me where I can and cannot smoke."

State Rep. Judith Day has filed legislation to ban smoking on beaches in New Hampshire's 23 state parks, an idea she got from neighboring Maine, which this year became the first state to ban smoking on its beaches.

The Maine law's sponsor, Sen. John Nutting, said a mother's complaint prompted the ban.

"The 2-year-old daughter was playing at the beach and all of a sudden she realized that her daughter's cheeks looked like a chipmunk's cheeks, just as full and distended as you could get them," said Nutting, D-Leeds. "When she examined the reason for that, her little girl's mouth was plum full of cigarette butts that she'd picked up on the beach from people smoking and discarding."

Day, a North Hampton Democrat, said getting rid of cigarette butts is secondary to her.

"My point is to do it for people's health," she said.

Another seacoast Democrat, Susan Kepner of Hampton, has filed a similar bill _ but hers also proposes a ban on outdoor smoking in public areas of state parks, such as picnic areas.

"So much of our economy is driven through and around with our state parks and being outside," Kepner said. "They're healthy things. This to me is just part of helping New Hampshire residents and guests be healthy."

Gary Nolan, national director of Citizens Freedom Alliance Inc., sees both bills as "political correctness run amok."

"What is the point? Is it to ostracize smokers and punish them from smoking or are they relying on the junk science that second-hand smoke is somehow dangerous," said Nolan whose group defends smokers' rights.

House Republican Leader Sherman Packard of Londonderry agrees with Nolan.

"We've gone pretty far on preventing people from doing something that's legal. If the goal here is to ban smoking altogether, then just come out and say it," said Packard.

New Hampshire would be the second state to enact a ban on smoking at state beaches. Puerto Rico also bans smoking on beaches, according to Bronson Frick of the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Frick said almost 100 cities have smoke-free beaches and more than 1,000 cities and a handful of states have outdoor smoking policies ranging from bus stops to business doorways.

Frick said reasons for the bans vary from concern over litter from the butts to keeping smoke out of adjacent buildings.

New Hampshire has laws banning indoor smoking in public buildings, grocery stores, public conveyances, hospitals, restaurants and bars. Businesses must segregate smokers from nonsmokers in workplaces with four or more employees.

Nonsmoker Sheila Foster, 39, of East Kingston, said she isn't bothered by the smoke when she's at the beach as much as the discarded cigarette butts.

"If they had places to dispose of (butts), it would be one thing," she said. "They throw them everywhere."

New Hampshire should enforce a litter law if that's the issue, Nolan said.

"If it's litter, then anyone who has anything wrapped in paper should be targeted as well. That you do with a litter law, not an anti-smoking law," he said.

State Parks Director Ted Austin believes in promoting a healthy lifestyle, but questions who would enforce the bans. Day's bill doesn't include enforcement, a penalty or even signs. Kepner's bill would let park rangers enforce the law. Violators face a fine of up to $50. Signs would be posted around picnic areas, playgrounds and other areas covered by the law. Campsites and hiking trails are exempt.

"The last thing I want is to turn our staff that should be ingratiating themselves to our guests into law enforcement types," said Austin.