Although there's a lack of empirical evidence, Oahu's city-run beaches are mostly cleaner after a law that bans smoking went into effect Jan. 1.
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"When we first brought this to everyone's attention we did a cleanup at Kakaako and collected 11,500 cigarette butts literally within the space of an hour-and-a-half," said Surfrider Foundation Hawaii Coordinator Stuart Coleman. "So it was just the overwhelming amount of debris that we picked up and since, yeah, it's been greatly reduced."
Groups like Surfrider aren't the only ones noticing fewer cigarette butts on Oahu's beaches. Waikiki beach boys who toil on the sand at Kuhio Beach every day say the transformation has been stark.
"Definitely less trash (and) less cigarette butts," said beach boy Corbin Peleiholani. "We still see some people smoking, sometimes here near the shore, sometimes sitting on this wall. But I think the majority of the public is aware that the smoking ban is in effect. I see a lot of them smoking across the street."
Before Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed the smoking ban into law at Oahu beaches and parks, opponents claimed the measure would alienate Asian tourists who traditionally smoke at higher rates than other groups. However the mayor hasn't received any complaints from the hotel industry during face-to-face meetings he holds every month.
"It's been all positive," said the mayor. "They're happy with the result and they're happy with the educational effort that was undertaken before the law went into effect."
Still, some smokers are being "educated" through a stiff $100 fine for first-time offenders.
According to Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu, officers issued 111 warnings and 77 citations as of April 30. A second smoking offense within a year nets a $200 citation, followed by a $500 fine for any subsequent violations.
"It's mostly self-enforcement," said Stuart. "People they do respect the law when it comes to smoking on the beaches because everybody's very sensitive about it and people generally get annoyed when others are smoking on the beach."
Last month Maui County passed its version of a smoking ban, which also prohibits lighting up at county parks and beaches. The Big Island passed a similar ban in 2008, and now the Surfrider Foundation is setting its sights on Kauai, where smoking at beaches is still allowed.
"So we're moving towards Hawaii being the first state in the country to ban smoking on our beaches and parks, which is exciting," Stuart told KITV4.
For Surfrider, smoking bans are only the first step toward cleaner beaches. The environmental group is also hoping to ban Styrofoam containers through its Ban the Foam campaign. However Caldwell has yet to take a position on banning the building block of many plate lunches across the island.
"I think it's something we need to look at," said the mayor. "I'm a little more wanting to weigh the pros and cons, partly just because our local lunch places always use Styrofoam."