Bill opens way for smoking bans at Florida parks, beaches

Author: The Associated Press
A seabird gives a chick a cigarette butt at St. Pete Beach. (Credit: CBS via Karen Mason)
A seabird gives a chick a cigarette butt at St. Pete Beach. (Credit: CBS via Karen Mason)

Local governments could ban tobacco smoking at beaches and parks they own and Florida would prohibit smoking in state parks under a bill approved by a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The state already bans smoking at indoor workplaces and restaurants other than bars that sell a minimal amount of food, but cities and counties can’t enact local ordinances to further restrict smoking.

The Community Affairs Committee overwhelmingly voted to allow such prohibitions at government-owned parks and beaches.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Joe Gruters pointed out that an annual ranking of the country’s best beaches conducted by Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman deducts points for beaches that allow smoking.

“This is a way not only to help the environment, but it’s a way to continue to improve on our rankings across our state, which will lead to more tourism, which will help our overall budget,” Gruters said. “Let’s get the bad butts off the beach.”

He said during last year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day, 188,000 cigarette butts were picked up in Florida.

Marvin Holthouser, owner of a Destin cigar shop, said the bill could hurt businesses like his.

“I’m two blocks from the beach, a couple may come into my store … and want to buy a cigar and walk down to the beach and watch the sunset,” Holthouser said. “I very well may be impacted financially.”

Holly Parker Curry of the Surfrider Foundation’s Florida chapter said the state had more cigarette butts than any other during the International Coastal Cleanup Day.

“We probably do more beach cleanups than any other group out there in Florida and at every single beach cleanup, we find cigarette butts. It’s the No. 1 item found on beaches in the United States,” she said. “Nobody wants to go to a dirty beach.”

Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur voted against the bill. He said he understands the concerns about cigarette smoking and beach litter, but said he is a premium cigar smoker.

“I don’t want to prohibit myself from being in a state park where I can have a campfire but not have a cigar,” Brodeur said.

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