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Maui Prep student leads charge to ban  cigarettes from county parks and beaches

By Staff | Apr 17, 2014

Andrew O’Riordan and Gina Marzo are key players in the movement to ban cigarettes from Maui County parks and beaches.

LAHAINA – After six months of researching, planning and working tirelessly to achieve her dream, 16-year-old West Maui resident Gina Marzo is almost there.

A lifelong resident of West Maui, Marzo, a junior at Maui Preparatory Academy, has worked with students around the island to create a movement centering on one key issue: banning cigarettes from Maui County parks and beaches.

As she anxiously anticipates what the nine-member Maui County Council will decide when the bill receives its final hearing, she reflected back on all of the steps she has taken to transform her idea into a law that may soon reshape policy on Maui, Molokai and Lanai forever.

In September of 2013, two important events occurred. First, Marzo received an assignment in Kristie Fetterly’s civics course to choose a relevant local issue, create a public service announcement and deliver a formal presentation. Reflecting on the vital role of the ocean in her family’s life, she decided to zero in on how to enhance the coastal environment for all people and creatures. When she discovered through research that the number one item picked up at beach cleanups is cigarette butts, this became her issue. She invited West Maui Councilwoman Elle Cochran to attend her presentation, and the seeds of the movement were born.

Second, Marzo took on the role as Maui Prep’s representative to the Maui District Student Council Organization (MDSCO). This body includes two student leaders from all public high schools in Maui County, as well as Kamehameha Schools, Seabury Hall and Maui Preparatory Academy.

As Marzo shared her research and ideas with students across the island, MDSCO decided together, under the leadership of student Chair Brian Zamora, to embrace the issue.

On Sunday, Jan. 12, at beaches in Central, South, West and East Maui, students and volunteers of all ages, districts and walks of life rallied to comb Maui’s beaches for cigarette butts. On the West Side, Lahainaluna High School students cleaned up Olowalu, and Maui Prep students cleaned up Hanakao’o Beach.

In just two hours, these generous volunteers picked up 14,130 cigarette butts.

On Jan. 13, MDSCO student leaders gathered at the County Building to count and publicize the cigarette butt totals. In support, Mayor Alan Arakawa declared Jan. 13 “Butts Off Our Beaches” Day, and Councilman Mike Victorino saluted the students for their efforts.

Essential organizational support for the cleanup and the public presentation of butts was provided by the Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines, Malama Maui Nui, and Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.

On Thursday, Feb. 6, the MDSCO students presented their case to Councilman Don Guzman, who then took on the issue and agreed to sponsor a bill in his committee. Basically, the bill prohibits smoking at Maui County parks and beaches.

On Saturday, Feb. 15, Surfrider Foundation Maui picked up another 3,000-plus cigarette butts at Kahului Harbor, which had been cleaned just one month earlier.

On Friday, March 14, MDSCO students delivered powerful verbal testimony before the County Council. Support for the bill was overwhelming, as some 15 young people testified in support of the bill, and nobody verbally testified against it.

On Friday, March 21, conversation about the bill continued for two-and-a-half hours. Councilwoman Cochran helped her colleagues see the bigger picture. The bill was successfully voted out of committee to be heard by the full council.

On Friday, April 4, the full council heard the bill and passed it on by a 8-0 vote.

The final hearing of the bill is coming soon, very likely on Earth Day, April 22.

Andrew O’Riordan, volunteer coordinator for Surfrider Foundation and a teacher at Maui Preparatory Academy, noted, “This bill would be a tribute to the dedicated work of countless people, and especially to the tenacity of Gina Marzo, to MDSCO Chair Brian Zamora, to the entire MDSCO student organization and to every child and adult who has been a part of this movement.

“For the students, the lessons have been constant: how does society evolve and change? What rules do we live by and why? How can individuals affect change? What are each of our rights and responsibilities? Can I make a difference?”

Keep your eyes on the County Council to see the final chapter in this story, and to find out if Gina Marzo’s dream will come true.