Smoking ban at California state parks is vetoed by Schwarzenegger

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Cigar-smoking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation Monday that would have banned smoking at all California state parks and beaches, saying the bill crossed the line of government intrusion.

In a letter to California senators, the governor said state parks and local governments were already permitted to ban smoking on a case-by-case basis.

“There is something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of the state encroaching in such a broad manner on the people of California,” Schwarzenegger wrote to lawmakers.

Many of those legislators have previously been invited into the governor’s smoking tent at the Capitol.

The author of the bill, state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, had argued her bill would help reduce litter along with the threat of wildfires and second-hand smoke. She crafted the legislation so smokers would be allowed to light up in parking lots and at campsites in parks.

“I’m sorry the governor did not agree with this widely supported effort to increase public awareness about the environmental threats carelessly tossed cigarettes are doing to our marine life and to the great outdoors,” Oropeza said in a statement.

Hundreds of communities nationwide have enacted smoking bans at municipal parks and beaches. Maine is the only state to ban smoking at its state beaches. But anti-smoking groups say no state has banned smoking throughout its entire park system.

The bill was supported by environmental groups that organize beach cleanup days throughout the U.S., where cigarettes are the No. 1 item collected by volunteers.

Schwarzenegger told lawmakers the best way to discourage people from leaving cigarette butts at beaches and parks is to increase fines and penalties. His position put him at odds with the California Ocean Protection Council, which in 2008 recommended the state ban smoking at all state beaches to help reduce polluting marine debris.

The governor’s veto surprised Angela Howe, an attorney for Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization based in San Clemente that had hoped Schwarzenegger would follow the council’s recommendation.

“We’re very dismayed to see the governor has not prioritized clean and healthy beaches, especially since our coast lines are a driving force to our California economy,” Howe said.

At least one tobacco company, Commonwealth Brands, had publicly opposed the ban, arguing it would infringe on smokers’ rights.