Cigarette butts were referred to as "the source" of litter on Isle of Palms beach this spring. Now, Sullivan's Island is suggesting a smoking ban in public areas and the beach in attempt to curb future pollution.
On July 15, the Public Facilities Committee recommended to council that staff start crafting an ordinance that would prohibit the use of certain tobacco products in those vicinities. As of now, there isn't a clear-cut definition of what the ban will encompass.
In 2018, Isle of Palms picked up 23,000 pieces of trash, according to the Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew. More than ⅓ of the trash consisted of cigarettes. Since March, IOP's Public Works Committee too has been looking into the issue with loose talks of banning smoking on the beach.
Sullivan's Island could not provide any up-to-date litter statistics by the time of this publication. However, the town has verified resident reports collecting "hundreds" of cigarettes butts in a single sweep of town parking lots.
Globally, cigarettes have long been the single most collected item on the world’s beaches with a total of more than 60 million collected over 32 years, according to data collected from the Ocean Conservancy. To date, cigarettes are the No. 1 man-made containment in the ocean and are littered on the beach approximately 1.7 billion pounds each year. Over time their plastic components break down into microplastics which are found in over 70% of seabirds and 30% of sea turtles.
"I don't care if you go to the grocery store and get plastic instead of paper, that's not my prerogative. But you can't bring plastic to the beach," said councilmember Gregg Hammond, chair of Sullivan's Island Public Facilities Committee. "I don't care if you smoke, but I do not think you should be bringing cigarettes to the beach."
Committee member Sarah Church concurred with Hammond, but suggested an even more comprehensive smoking ban that would include public areas, particularly outside restaurants on Middle Street. She reasoned the causation of cigarette butts on the beach is a trickle effect that starts in the streets and makes its way to the ocean via drainage systems every time it rains.
"I know this is a touchy subject, it's not a popular one, but that's where I stand with it," Church added.
Committee member Tim Reese suggested starting with banning the beach first because it's more enforceable and then encompass the larger areas that are more difficult to supervise. As for the enforceability, smoking violations would be considered a civil fine because a municipality cannot criminalize an act the state says is legal to do.
In July 2006, Sullivan's Island banned smoking in all bars and restaurants, but not in all other workplaces. The anti-smoking trend has already made its way to the sand, particularly in North Carolina which only has a few beaches left that permit smoking, Hammond pointed out.
"This is not a new topic, this is not a new thing. It might be new for South Carolina, it might be new for us, but it's pretty widely done nationwide," Hammond added.
The smoking ordinance will be readdressed at next month's council workshop on Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. at Sullivan's Island town hall.