Smoking bill to change beach rules, possibly ban cigarettes

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Today, a House committee unanimously approved his version of the bill to stop beachgoers from littering the sand with cigarette butts.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — If you’re a smoker and enjoy spending time huffing at the beach, you may soon want to consider doing it before you hit the sand.

If you’re lucky, you might have a special section where you can also hang out with other smokers. But, you will still need to be responsible and dispose of your cigarette butts properly.

That’s because possible changes to smoke-free rules are looming. Two complementary bills to do this are advancing and gaining momentum in the Florida Legislature.

Today, a statehouse committee unanimously approved their version of the bill to stop beachgoers from littering the sand with cigarette butts.

Currently, local governments and municipalities are not allowed to ban smoking on their beaches. This is because tobacco regulation is a state matter. But, the bill (HB 105), which is sponsored by Randy Fine (R-Brevard County), will allow cities and counties to decide what to do about smoking on beaches under their jurisdiction. And this may include its complete ban.

Local leaders can also decide to create designated smoking areas and fines. Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) has long supported the bill’s measures with the state Senate version he introduced. Gruter’s bill (SB 224), which recently passed one of the Senate committees, goes further by calling for a ban on smoking and cigarette butts on public beaches and state parks.

According to Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts, along with plastics, are major sources of pollution on beaches and impact wildlife.

“Cigarette butts are basically small pieces of plastic and one of our main missions is to remove plastic from the marine environment because of the effect it has on our ecosystem and on the marine environment. “said Jon Paul “JP” Brooker, Director of Florida Conservation at the Ocean Conservancy.

“There’s a growing awareness of the threats to Florida and I think there’s a growing will to do something about it,” Brooker said.

Local leaders would also have the power to decide whether or not to create designated smoking sections and what type of fines to impose on violators. Lawmakers hope these pieces of legislation, if passed, can help clean Florida beaches of cigarette butts. It would also mean that birds won’t continue to mistake them for food or nesting objects and that fish won’t ingest them and end up on people’s plates.

“Animals are deeply affected by the plastic in cigarette butts. We’ve seen images of birds feeding their chicks cigarette butts, we’ve seen cigarette butt plastic build up in the guts of fish, and so if we can reduce the amount of plastic in the environment, we can mitigate those impacts on our wildlife,” Brooker said.

During one of its cleanups last year, Ocean Conservancy volunteers picked up more than 180,000 cigarette butts from beaches and saved them from ending up in the ocean.

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