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March 15. 2014 9:20PM

7th-grader's effort paves way for smoke-free beaches


Isabella Hillman is all smiles after her efforts to establish smoke-free town beaches was placed on the ballot. (Courtesy)

RYE - As soon as ballots were tallied last Tuesday night in Rye, Isabella Hillman took a deep breath, exhaled, and smiled.

Thanks to her efforts, thousands of beachgoers in her town might be able to do the same this summer.

Hillman, 12, led a petition drive to put a warrant article before voters, asking them to approve a nonbinding resolution declaring all town beaches smoke-free. Last Tuesday, residents of Rye complied, approving her Article 24, 1,193 to 471.

"It was great to be able to make a difference like that," said Hillman, a seventh-grader at Rye Junior High School. "My friends and I love to go to the beach, and there's always someone smoking there and we don't like it. Plus, most of the litter picked up off beaches are cigarette butts. This will help."

Hillman said after she decided to take on the task of a smoking ban on local beaches, she approached the Rye Civic League for advice on how to go about it.

"They explained to me everything I needed to do," said Hillman. "They were a big help right from the start."

Hillman gathered 40 signatures for her petition, 15 more than required to have it go before selectmen for placement on the town's warrant. She then addressed the town's deliberative session, successfully advocating for its placement on the ballot.

"She spent months on this," said her father, Steve. "She's a straight-A student, a very determined person. The passion, the drive she needed to get this done . I don't know where it comes from because I don't have it. We're very proud of her."

The smoking ban received the full backing of the town's selectmen and Budget Committee.

According to Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh, because Article 24 is a nonbinding resolution that declares all nine town beach areas as smoke-free zones, signs will be posted asking beachgoers not to smoke, but they will not face a penalty or fine if they do.

"If a police officer or lifeguard sees someone smoking on a town beach, they will point out the signs and let them know that it's a smoke-free zone, but that's really the limit of what they will do," said Walsh. "I think it's a good rule. It promotes healthy living."

Walsh said he doesn't think there will be an area designated for smokers at town beaches. Smoking is allowed at state park beaches along the coast, including Wallis Sands Beach. State beach patrons can be ticketed for littering if they discard trash or cigarette butts on the ground, facing fines of $25 for the first offense, $50 for a second offense, $100 for a third and $250 for each subsequent offense.

The Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, based in Portsmouth, is dedicated to educating people and preserving marine ecosystems in New Hampshire.

Beach cleanups are conducted each month by volunteers. Most of the debris found during the beach cleanups comes from cigarettes.

According to the Blue Ocean Society's website, during its 2013 New Hampshire Coastal Cleanup, more than 7,870 pounds of debris was collected from 40 Granite State beaches. The most common items found were cigarette butts, totaling 39,191.

Ultimately, the smoking ban should make people's time at the beach more enjoyable, Isabella said.

"It will make places safer for people with breathing problems and helpful for the environment because cigarette butts are dangerous for marine life. It will make everything generally cleaner," she said.

"Two years ago, York, Maine, passed a nonbinding smoke-free beach resolution, and their beaches are almost smoke-free, and litter from cigarette butts has been dramatically reduced," said Steve Hillman.

Isabella will now begin working with a graphic designer her parents know to create the 'No Smoking' signs that will be posted.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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