Why Parks and Beaches Should be Tobacco-Free

tobacco-free, secondhand smoke

There are a number of advantages to making parks, beaches, and other recreational areas tobacco-free.

Advantage #1: Healthy environments for healthy living. Secondhand smoke causes heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems, and ear infections and also worsens asthma. Children, older adults, people with special health needs, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the health risks caused by secondhand smoke exposure, even in outdoor environments. Tobacco-free parks and beaches provide families and children healthy environments in which they are not exposed to the health harms of secondhand smoke.

Advantage #2: No cigarette butts or other tobacco litter.  Cigarette and spit tobacco litter is poisonous to children and wildlife. Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the entire country. Americans discard an estimated 175 million pounds of cigarette butts every year.

Studies show that cigarette butts are toxic, slow to decompose, and costly to clean up. Cigarette butts can cause digestive blockages if eaten, and they have been found in the stomachs of fish, whales, birds, and other marine animals. Children routinely pick cigarette butts up and place them in their mouths — putting them at risk for nicotine poisoning. Butts that are not fully extinguished also pose a fire and burn risk.

Advantage #3: Walking the talk. Michigan has a growing number of tobacco-free parks and beaches, each of which demonstrates a healthy, tobacco-free community norm, especially for our youth. Allowing tobacco use in parks, on beaches, and in other recreation areas where youth and families with young children gather sends a dangerous, mixed message about healthy living. Tobacco use is not a behavior that we want to model for the children in our communities. Research shows that tobacco-free parks policies can reduce — and even prevent — tobacco use among kids.

wooden stairs leading down to Sleeping Bear Dunes beach

  Related Resources

  • Presentation: Pure Michigan: Making Our Beaches and Parks Smoke Free (Michigan Department of Community Health)
    This presentation includes statistics and facts about the effects of smoking in outdoor recreational environments and the benefits of going smoke free and discusses efforts in Michigan and other states to keep parks and beaches free from tobacco. It also includes a number of resources for additional information.

  • Presentation: Tobacco-Free Parks and Beaches: Cancer Prevention (Traverse Bay Area Tobacco Coalition)
    This PowerPoint presentation discusses the need for tobacco-free outdoor recreational environments and gathering community support for such spaces.

  • Web: Starting a Tobacco-Free Project in Your Community (Tobacco-Free Youth Recreation)
    This webpage offers guides, fact sheets, and other resources for youth groups, community organizations, tobacco control professionals, and policymakers who want to learn more about the steps and benefits involved in creating tobacco-free outdoor recreational environments.

  • Web: Cigarette Butt Litter (Surfrider Foundation)
    This Beachapedia page is packed with statistics about cigarette butt litter, including the scope of the problem, the economic and environmental costs, and potential solutions. Be sure to check out the Foundation’s Butts PSA on its YouTube channel.

  • Web: Smoke-Free & Tobacco-Free Places: Outdoors (Tobacco Control Legal Consortium)
    This website provides a wealth of information useful for people interested in enacting smoke-free and tobacco-free places outdoors. It includes dozens of links to related legal issues, legislation, litigation, research, and other key resources.

  • White Paper: Reasons for Banning Smoking in Certain Public Outdoor Areas (Action on Smoking & Health)
    This paper provides a total of 16 reasons (and supporting references) to make outdoor public spaces smoke free.

Photo credits:
The image at the top of this page shows a poster developed by the Sault Tribe Housing Authority in partnership with the Sault Tribe Strategic Alliance for Health Project. Clicking on the image will take you to a larger version of the poster.

The image at the bottom of the page shows a stairway leading over the Sleeping Bear Dunes to the Lake Michigan beach and is part of the PureMichigan Downloadable Image Gallery. Clicking on the image will take you to a page providing more information about the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.