Smoking, Littering, and More: What Not to Do in Baja California

In recent years, Baja California has experienced a significant uptick in tourism. According to the Secretary of Tourism (Sectur), foreign exchange income from January to November 2023 saw a notable 9.8% increase compared to the same period in 2022, highlighting the growing appeal among travelers.

However, while travel to the state is on the rise, there are important considerations that tourists must heed to ensure their safety and enjoyment. For instance, in 2023, Mexico implemented a ban on ‘shark tourism’ at Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California, a renowned hotspot for great white sharks. Despite the appeal of shark watching and other activities for tourists, local officials felt a ban was necessary in order to protect the local shark population. As the popularity of tourism destinations like Baja California grows, this is one example of the evolving nature of local regulations aimed at preserving both natural habitats and human safety. Below, we take a look at other critical regulations that tourists should keep in mind during their visit.

Littering and single-use plastics

An escalating sewage crisis at the border has shed light on the littering challenges plaguing Baja California. As reported by NBC 7, the pollution includes heavy metals, chemicals, and feces, posing serious health risks to those exposed. As a result, the Tijuana River Estuary and surrounding beaches have become contaminated, affecting both wildlife and humans. Meanwhile, in urban areas, outdoor smoking contributes to the littering issue, with over 27 million cigarette butts discarded monthly in the Mexican state.

To combat this, there are several regulations that tourists must follow. For starters, the Environmental Protection Law for the State of Baja California Sur has banned plastic bags, expanded polystyrene containers, and plastic straws in local establishments. Additionally, any dumping into marine waters without a permit is considered illegal under Ley de Ventrimientos en las Zonas Marinas Mexicanos.

To minimize waste while traveling in Baja California, tourists can bring reusable containers, water bottles, and bags. Shopping at local markets offers opportunities to find food packages free of unnecessary plastic packaging. Additionally, seeking out zero-waste stores can provide eco-friendly alternatives to single-use items, allowing tourists to enjoy the beauty of Baja California while minimizing their environmental footprint.

Smoking in public places

As of January 2023, smoking has been strictly prohibited in all public places in Baja California. These measures extend to workplaces and outdoor locations, including public squares, parks, beaches, and sports stadiums. Consequently, fines of up to US$550 (around MX$9,000) are imposed for violations.

As smoking restrictions tighten, it’s essential to consider alternatives to traditional tobacco products when traveling to the Mexican state. However, tourists should exercise caution even with alternatives like vaping, as emphasized in this article. In 2022, Mexico banned the sales of ‘harmful’ e-cigarettes, recognizing the risks of vaping for which e-cigarette company Juul faced legal action. Juul eventually paid a US$22.5 million (around MX$350 million) settlement for misleading marketing claims regarding the safety of their products.

Hence, smokeless alternatives offer a more convenient option for tourists and locals alike. Smoke-free products like nicotine gum or pouches provide unique flavors and nicotine levels without harmful chemicals from combustion, unlike smoking or vaping. The pouches here by leading brand VELO additionally utilize plant fibers to carry pH adjusters, which help ensure that the nicotine is absorbed effectively. This ensures a consistent and enjoyable nicotine experience, and the ‘spitless’ feature also allows users to consume nicotine without generating litter. These choices offer a convenient and responsible alternative for individuals seeking to avoid the risks of public smoking and vaping in Baja, California and beyond.

Driving without insurance

Driving in Baja California presents its own set of challenges, including long stretches of narrow roads and occasional police checkpoints. Hence, Mexican law mandates that all drivers entering the country have Mexico-specific liability insurance. Fortunately, several insurance companies, from AAA to Geico, specialize in providing coverage for Americans traveling south, offering liability policies ranging from US$10 to US$40 (around MX$167 to MX$667) per day.

Failure to comply could result in legal penalties. Tourists should also be aware of the police checkpoints strategically placed every few hundred miles along the peninsula. These checkpoints serve to ensure the safety of all travelers and verify compliance with driving regulations.

Check out our previous article describing the interactions at these military checkpoints. While encountering checkpoints may seem daunting, maintaining a non-confrontational attitude and a friendly demeanor can facilitate smooth interactions with law enforcement personnel.

By adhering to local regulations, visitors can enjoy all that Baja California has to offer while respecting its environment and communities. Practice responsible tourism and you can contribute to the preservation of this beloved destination for generations to come.

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