Plastic Pollution, Water Quality
November 07 2012

No Smoking On This Beach Near Tobacco Road

by Bill Hickman

The focus Tuesday was mainly on the Presidential race but there were other important races and plenty of ballot initiatives across the country.  In Wrightsville Beach voters soundly approved the first smoke-free beach in North Carolina.  The Surfrider Foundation Cape Fear Chapter worked hard on this campaign for two years and their volunteer activists were able to show community support throughout the process.

The Town Council of Wrightsville Beach repeatedly voted against the smoking ban 3-2 but the Cape Fear Chapter pressed on as they knew local citizens were fed up with the increase in cigarette butt litter on the beach. 

Cigarette butts are typically made from cellulose acetate, a synthetic fiber type of plastic, which takes years to break down.  In addition to being an eyesore, there is a push to classify cigarette butts as toxic waste because what’s left behind in the filter can leach out if submerged in water and impact marine life.   

The effort began in the late 1990's when of our last projects for outgoing leaders Tim and Adina to walk one block square of WB for 20 minutes and collect as many cig butts as possible with Sean Ahlum.  What we gathered became the staple of the CFSF tabling setup for over a decade.  Al Meadowcroft, our vice chair, has probably driven this gallon bag zip-lock of butts over ten thousand miles (thanks Al for always setting up our tents) and has literally brought this display to every CFSF event since it was created.  This bag o’ butts has spurred countless conversations.  I actually remember the first time the now Mayor of WB, David Cignotti, picked up the bag and said it was a problem.  This was before he ran for BOA.  From 2004-2006 we walked the beaches on July 4th and handed out pocket ashtrays.  Cig Butt campaign posters (versions of what we gave you the last time around), have appeared periodically in and around our town since around 2004.  I believe the chapter gave its first presentation to WB BOA about cig litter in the late 90s and continued every few years since.  The first time the ban came up for a vote, it was through the work of our volunteers and our surveying of residents through the cleaner greener committee with WB.  The survey was on micro litter.  We lost the BOA vote during that round (surprisingly, as one of our BOA changed her mind about enforcement).    We learned a good bit from that experience and that BOA person ended up being such a keen political advisor and source of info for us on many future votes.  All of that and other work in the region by the Cape Fear Chapter laid the groundwork for this campaign. (Paragraph from Sean Ahlum)

The effort began continued in January 2010 with a Wrightsville Beach resident named Tim Taylor bringing the smoke-free beaches proposal to Town Council. The ban was first voted down by Town Council in May of 2010.  Also wanting to help make Wrightsville Beach a smoke-free beach, Danielle Richardet started to document the local cigarette butt litter issue on her blog It Starts With Me in August 2010.  In one recent stretch she picked up 52,993 butts in 168 days.  She finds cigarette butts on the beach right after group cleanups specifically targeting butts.  Danielle got support from her husband Aaron and is involved with the Surfrider Foundation Cape Fear Chapter where she asked around about how to enact a smoking ban on the beach to help tackle the issue.

The Chapter rallied and found a sympathetic ear on the local Town Council to bring the ordinance up for another vote.  Despite public support, there was not enough support on the Town Council as an ordinance was voted down again.  With research help from Surfrider’s Legal Department and local activist Ginger Taylor, the Cape Fear Chapter was able to draft a petition to get the issue placed on the ballot as a referendum to be decided by all of the voters in Wrightsville Beach.  Enough certified signatures were gathered by the deadline and on November 6, 2012 the smoking ban passed – almost by a 2 to 1 margin!

The Cape Fear Chapter will continue to work with city officials on signage and awareness of the smoking ban as it is enacted.  The goal is to have self-enforcement from beachgoers instead of someone writing tickets and there is a one-year grace period to give everyone time to prepare.  Congrats to Tim, Danielle, Aaron, Ginger, Sean Ahlum, Ethan Crouch and everyone else involved in this coastal victory!