By Wendy Osher
A bill that effectively bans tobacco use at county parks, beaches and recreational facilities in Maui County, passed second and final reading on Tuesday in the Maui County Council.
The bill gained approval on Earth Day, after the receipt of more than 400 letters of testimony since the bill was introduced 42 days ago.
“I applaud all of those involved in inspiring this bill, especially those students actively engaged in the civic process to bring about change as they recognize it would be better in their community. Your commitment to this cause is moving,” said Council Member Don Guzman, who introduced the bill.
Guzman said the item came on the radar through interaction with the Maui District Student Council Organization when he did a presentation on how bills become law, and empowering youth by showing them a way they can have a voice.
“The success of this bill will based in large part on the response of the community,” said Guzman who urged the Department of Parks and Recreation to install signage as necessary to promote awareness. “I encourage all the community organizations to assist in the implementation and education through its partnerships,” said Guzman during testimony today as he asked his colleagues to join him in support of the measure.
Bill 24 prohibits the use of tobacco and tobacco products at county parks and recreational facilities, including county beaches up to the water-line. Backers of the bill said the measure also aims to mitigate negative environmental impacts to the marine environment caused by waste from tobacco products.
Guzman called it “a step forward in promoting healthy lifestyles,” saying, “The bill comes on the heels of a nationwide movement concerned with health and environmental pollutants, which is why it is so fitting that today is Earth Day.
Fellow Council Member Elle Cochran gave special credit to the students for the role they played in assisting with beach cleanup efforts, and aiding in the passage of the bill. “They did their footwork; they went on the beach; they picked up the butts; they showed first hand visuals of what it is and the impacts; and put their heart and soul and passion behind this. I am very proud to be here today to be supporting it, and to show them — yes, that your voice makes a difference, and your participation does too.”
Council Member Michael Victorino also joined in congratulating the students who stood behind the legislation saying, “I remember the day they brought the (cigarette) butts in front of the county building and helped count butts … It was astonishing how these young people — their commitment, their passion — was there.”
As part of the effort urging passage of the bill, youth from the Maui District Student Council Organization  collected more than 14,000 cigarette butts in less than two hours  at one of several island-wide cleanup efforts. Similar beach cleanups  were held throughout the county with the help of various organizations including the Surfrider Foundation, the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaiʻi, Positive H2O, and others.
“I think our youth have demonstrated again that they are willing to step up to the plate and do something that’s right for the environment, right for us here in Maui County, but more importantly, right for their future,” said Victorino. “It was a tidal wave of good proportion that passed over this community, and now we will see the residual effects.”
Council Chair Gladys Baisa also backed the students behind the legislation saying, “If you get together, and you get organized, and you’re passionate and you stay with it, you can make things happen. So for me, that is the importance and significance of what we’re doing here today.”
The measure passed with eight members voting in favor, and one member excused.