Community members and the smokefree sector are advocating for councils to prioritise smokefree beach regulations. This call to action came to a head this week as Wellington city council stated that they are proposing to extend its smoking ban to the Grey St pedestrian area and beaches. If this proposal was approved, this would make Wellington only the seventh of 64 regional areas nationwide to have a smokefree beach ban; a figure that has both Māori communities and the smokefree sector shocked.
Hāpai General Manager of Tobacco Control, Mihi Blair (Ngāti Whātua) advocated for improved beach regulations this week on TVNZ’s Breakfast show. Blair believes communities will be shocked to learn that the majority of pollution in our moana is cigarette butts: "The fact of the matter is that much of the cigarette butts that ends up in oceans aren’t dropped on beaches- they’re there due to poor waste management and lack of public education. But this could be helped if we didn’t smoke around beaches, dispose of litter responsibly and if there were better regulations at a council level which encouraged this".
Few councils have taken steps towards phasing out smoking in public beaches. Various DHBs have attempted to campaign to their local councils for smokefree beach regulations, but due to lack of support, these have not yet been approved. According to a map of councils' smokefree outdoor policies and spaces, only six of the 64 regional areas have smokekfree beach or water way regulations. These six areas include western Bay of Plenty, Whanganui, Timaru, Gisborne, and Hutt City. Auckland council is also one of the six areas to have developed smokefree beach policies, although many feel firmer action is required as non-regulatory approaches like theirs are voluntary and not enforced.
Martin Witt, Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division, states that "we’d like to believe that with an increase in environmental awareness, there would be more appetite for smokefree beach policies. We conducted a survey in 2014 which showed there was significant support, but many felt other public spaces like parks should be prioritised first. Now that work has been done, I think smokefree beaches should be put back on the table for consideration and would think communities feel similarly".
Blair states: "What will it take for councils to see the merit in protecting their communities from second hand smoke and protecting our moana from cigarette pollution? This is what we’re trying to figure out. We’ve all reaped the benefits from not smoking in bars, cafes and other public spaces- why not beaches? If the role of a city council is to act on behalf of their people and meet the current and future needs of the community, communities are saying they need clean air and clean beaches. Implementing a smokefree beach policy would be one way for council to show they are listening".