A proposal to ban cigarette smoking from beaches, which was floated three years ago, never kicked off due to the pandemic but the mayor behind it has not thrown in the towel as the environment ministry pledges to minimise littering by the sea.

Xagħra mayor Christian Zammit had suggested the implementation of the smoking ban at Ramla Bay in the summer of 2019 and claims headway was made, with related ministries buying into the idea.

Ramla is a jewel we should all preserve- Xagħra mayor Christian Zammit

He blames the pandemic for stalling the process but is still hopeful that it could surface again to rid Malta’s beaches of ashtray status, with the unsightly cigarette butts scattered around and accumulating in soggy and smelly piles.

Disposal bins being installed

Until then, disposal bins for fag ends are being installed on sandy beaches in a pilot project by the environment ministry, which said it would “continue working to minimise cigarette butt littering as much as possible”.

Having noticed smoking bans on beaches in Italy’s Puglia and Sardegna and observing a “huge amount” of cigarette butts during clean-up campaigns organised by NGOs at Ramla, Zammit felt the popular Gozo bay, with its characteristic red sand, should follow suit.

“Ramla is a jewel we should all preserve,” the mayor said, noting that the cigarette butts end up polluting the sand and the sea.

“I was requesting that Ramla be the first of these cigarette-free beaches. Smoking should be limited to a designated zone at their entrance,” he maintained.

“I had pushed the environmental ministry to launch such an initiative and, as far as I know, discussions were being held with the Malta Tourism Authority as regards enforcement and with the superintendence of public health for the publication of the relative legal notice.

“However, I suppose everything was shelved due to the onset of the COVID-19 emergency,” Zammit continued.

Sand sifters and resusable ashtrays

Sand-sifting equipment, which cost the MTA €250,000 last year, has just started being utilised on beaches by the Cleansing and Maintenance Division, the tourism authority said.

Reusable beach ashtrays have also been distributed by supervisors on MTA-managed beaches to minimise the problem with cigarette butts.

Asked about a legal notice in the making, the health authorities pointed to the environment ministry as the lead on the initiative.

Zammit said he had not followed up the project since the onset of the pandemic because COVID-19 was “rightly awarded top priority status”.

But he said he was still hoping the proposal to rid the sand of cigarette butts would be implemented, using as an example Barcelona, which has banned smoking from its beaches year-round in what has been described as a courageous environmental move for a shoreline that is often connected with low life and mass tourism.

Smoking banned on many Italian beaches

The ban, which comes into effect on July 1, is designed to protect the environment and ensure the right of citizens to enjoy a clean, unpolluted space, free of smoke and cigarette butts.

Zammit also referred to many beaches in Italy, where smoking is prohibited and heavy fines are meted out.

To encourage participation in the pilot project that the environment ministry is about to launch, the bins on beaches will feature an educational question with two answers to choose from.

Users will ‘vote’ by throwing the cigarette butt in one compartment of the bin or the other, the ministry explained.

“There are various reasons why cigarette butts end up in the sea and this is primarily due to their wrong disposal,” it maintained, adding that its target was to minimise this as much as possible.

“It is for this reason that the environment ministry, through the Saving Our Blue campaign, aims to educate the public on various aspects,” it said.

Contrary to what is believed, cigarette butts are not harmless. Made of cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material, they contain hundreds of toxic chemicals.

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