In March, there were murmurs that Isle of Palms was considering expanding their plastics ban to include no smoking due to the startling amount of cigarette butts found flickered on the beach over recent beach seasons. The suggestion of a smoking ban stemmed from the plastics ban because cigarette filters contain microplastics, which the city has indisputably agreed is "the source" of beach litter and oceanic pollution.
Last week, the Public Works Committee unanimously recommended that the Public Safety Committee ban smoking and all forms of tobacco use at the beach, public parks and outdoor spaces. Outdoor private businesses would not be permitted and therefore are not applicable to any of the proposed regulations.
In 2018, Isle of Palms citizens and non-citizens voluntarily picked up 23,000 pieces of trash, according to the Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew. More than a third of the trash consisted of cigarette butts.
This July, Sullivan's Island Public Facilities Committee suggested a similar smoking ordinance, although they didn't decide on a clear-cut definition as to what tobacco products would be banned. Isle of Palms committee members admitted they were encouraged by their neighbor's environmental efforts and share a similar enthusiasm.
"I don't think the goal here is ticketing," said councilmember Carol Rice, chair of Public Works. "It's to change behavior and make people aware the world is not their ashtray."
Under the city's current codes, smoking in public workspaces is treated the same as littering at the beach. The fine ranges from $10-25 and is considered a civil infraction.
However, an open container of alcohol on the beach is treated criminally with fines up to $1,040. A couple committee members were perplexed with this rationale.
Rice argued the reason why banning smoking on the beach isn't enough and needs to include public facilities and green spaces is to avoid creating "smoking lounges." Vice-char Susan Hill Smith was equally adamant about preventing designated smoking areas, but more so for environmental reasons.
"I'm not here to tell people they can't smoke at all," Smith said, co-founder of the IOP Cleanup Crew.
Smith noted that smoking devices such as e-cigarettes and vapes are creating a new type of litter. Based on this logic, the Public Works Committee believes the ban needs to be all-encompassing to include cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaping and potentially other forms.
After setting the preliminary parameters of the ban, committee member Ted Kinghorn took the initiative one step further. He suggested that Isle of Palms collaborate with Sullivan's Island to jointly create a tobacco-free program.
The Public Works Committee's biggest fear is if one island bans smoking before the other or not at all, it will make one island a safe haven for smokers by default. Rice referenced that in the past, smokers used to take advantage of the island as their "ashtray" because Isle of Palms was the last East Cooper municipality to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in January 2009.
The Public Safety Committee will reconvene on Monday, Sept. 2. Further developments of the smoking ban proposal will be discussed at the committee's discretion.