Bill to allow smoking ban at Florida beaches, parks gains support
SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - An effort to ban smoking and cigarette butt litter at Florida parks and beaches is gaining traction from lawmakers and community activists.
Republican State Sen. Joe Gruter and Ocean Conservancy representatives to announce he’s sponsoring a bill to allow counties and municipalities to ban smoking on public beaches as well as in state parks.
“Florida beaches are the economic engine of our state. People travel from around the world to visit our pristine shorelines and enjoy the Sunshine State’s natural beauty. We must do everything that we can to protect our most valuable asset,” said Gruters.
“Cigarette butts may be small, but they have a lasting, harmful effect on our environment. They are universally the No. 1 littered items on beaches,” said J.P. Brooker, the director of Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy. “We cannot allow this damage to continue, which is why we stand in full support of Sen. Gruters’ bill to bring this positive change to our state.”
Ocean Conservancy is the nation’s oldest marine conservation nonprofit organization. During its annual International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts have been the most commonly found item. This has been the trend for the past 31 years on Florida beaches.
Cigarette butts are made of tightly packed plastic fibers that erode into smaller parts, which harms fish and other organisms, affecting their health and reproductivity. human are also harmed, he said, when people consume these sick fish.
To create awareness about this issue, local Sarasota artist Erin Ernst created the cigarette butt sculptures in the sand during Gruters’ news conference on Tuesday.
“We are really excited to be part of this. I decided to have my kids work on the cigarette butt art with me as a project during Christmas break,” said Ernst. “It’s a way to show them that they can make a difference and create change in our community even at a young age.”
Too much plastic can increase the sand’s temperature, which can hurt sea turtles that build nests on Florida beaches. Sand temperature determines the gender of hatchling sea turtles, so if the sand gets too hot, the sex ratios could be disrupted, threatening health reproduction.
Gruters’ bill to ban cigarettes on beaches -- SB224 -- has already passed one committee and there is a similar bill in the House -- HB 105. Florida already bans smoking at indoor workplaces and restaurants, but cities and counties can’t enact local ordinances to further restrict smoking.
Gruters has said that Florida beaches are at risk of losing top ratings and tourism dollars if cigarette butts remain an issue.
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