Students urge County to get butts* off beaches

*discarded cigarette butts, that is


Photo by Maile Sur

Student volunteers count cigarette butts that were collected during an island-wide beach clean-up on Sunday, January 12, 2014.

In two hours on one day, Maui students picked up more than 14,000 cigarette butts from Maui beaches, and on the next, they presented them to the county government.

Students came from all over, Sunday, January 12, to get “Butts Off Our Beaches,” in a cigarette butt-oriented beach clean-up, whose purpose is to try to ban tobacco from Maui County beaches. 

“This actually started as just a little project in my government class, and then it turned into this,” said Gina Marzo, junior at Maui Preparatory Academy. Marzo is the student leader of the campaign.

Cigarette butts are the number one most littered item at our beaches and parks

— Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa

The campaign is a combination effort, including Marzo, Maui Peparatory’s Student Activities Coordinator Andrew O’Riordan, the Maui District Student Council Organization (MDSCO), the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai’i, Oʻahu-based Sustainable Coastlines, the Surfrider Foundation Maui, and Community Work Day/Mālama Maui Nui.

Because of the harmful effects of cigarettes, not only to bodies, but to the environment as well, Maui County students teamed up for this two-day event in hopes of getting the Maui County Council to pass a policy to ban tobacco from beaches.

Mayor Alan Arakawa said, “Cigarette butts are the number one most littered item at our beaches and parks [also, they are] not biodegradable and are toxic to both marine life and the environment.”

The island-wide beach clean-up went from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sunday. Students from all high schools, including Maui Preparatory Academy, Kamehameha Schools Maui, St. Anthony, Lāhainaluna, Baldwin, and Maui High Schools, gathered at different beaches to participate.

Local smokers enjoying their day at the beach did not seem to have any opposition to a possible ban.

“I hate people who leave their cigarette butts on the beaches,” said Phil, a local smoker who declined to provide a last name. “As long as smokers take care of their butts, it should be fine.”

In addition to picking up butts, students passed out mini, closable ashtrays that smokers could use on the go. They could store their butts in the ashtray, and then throw them away later.

The beaches involved were Sugar Beach, Kahului Harbor, Wai’ehu Beach, Baldwin Beach, Pāʻia Bay, Papalaua Beach Park, Hāna Bay, Big Beach, Ka’anapali Beach, Olowalu, and Hanakao’o Beach.

“We’re all a part of one big community,” KS Maui sophomore Pono Pu’u-Robinson said. “We all have to do our part and keep it clean. We can’t ruin it now.”

It’s not just the act of smoking that is bugging residents, it is the harmful effects on others from the secondhand smoke, as well as the litter left behind.

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According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds. Of those, 250 are known to be harmful and 69 are known to cause cancer. Many of these compounds are contained in the butts, which come into contact with the sand on the beaches and the hands of curious children.

Dropping a cigarette on the beach is considered littering, which in Hawaiʻi is a petty misdemeanor. That means a fine of $100 or more for just one cigarette butt.  Along with that, violators are required to partake in a minimum of four hours of community service, but citations for cigarette butt littering are rare.

Butts off Our Beaches is taking a different approach to the problem by seeking a ban on smoking on Maui’s beaches. No smoking, no smoke, no butts.

Maui is not the first Hawaiian island to face the issue of smoking on beaches.

In 2008, the Big Island took the first step by banning smoking and tobacco use at all county beaches, parks and recreational facilities. This past month, O’ahu did the same for Ala Moana Beach Park. The remaining parks are under state jurisdiction.

The penalty for a first misdemeanor offense is a $100 fee. It doubles for a second offense in the same year, and each offense after that will cost $500. Police departments on both islands are responsible for enforcing the ban.

Students and members of the campaign came to the County Administration Building to tally all of the cigarette butts on Monday, Jan. 13, at 3:30 p.m., the second part of the campaign.

The breakdown of the butts collected were as follows:

  • Sugar Beach: 2,240
  • Kahului Harbor: 2,527
  • Wai’ehu Beach: 327
  • Baldwin Beach: 2, 633
  • Pāʻia Bay: 145
  • Hāna Bay: 280
  • Big Beach: 222
  • Ka’anapali Beach: 651
  • Olowalu: 3,160
  • Hanakao’o Beach: 1,574

In total, 14,130 cigarette butts were collected from Maui beaches.

Maui County council members came down to see the results. Among them were Councilmen Michael Victorino, Bill Mederios and Joe Fontanilla and representatives from the Mayor’s office, Mike Molina*, Zeke Kalua and John Buck.

“To see young people taking a pro-active approach to first of all, clean our beaches of the stench of cigarette butts, but more importantly, taking an active role in trying to prevent things like this from happening, is fantastic,” Victorino said.

Former Councilman Molina read a proclamation from Mayor Alan Arakawa designating January 13, 2014, as “Butts Off Our Beaches” Day.

*This information has been updated to reflect Mr. Molina’s current standing in the mayor’s office. His position was previously mis-identified. We apologize for the error.