As of July 1, local governments in Florida have the power to regulate beach smoking through new laws known as the Florida Clean Air Act.
According to research from the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts are the fourth most harmful type of plastic to marine life.
But how are local counties and cities reacting to the new law? Here’s a look at the latest developments, as local authorities, residents and tourists navigate uncharted waters.
Background: Sarasota officials and Dr. Beach celebrate new law allowing local governments to ban smoking on the beach
Opinion: Smoking cigars on beaches is a stinky idea
According to Drew Winchester, media relations manager for the Sarasota County Department of Communications, the majority of public beaches in Sarasota County are owned and operated by the county. Lido and Venice Beach, although owned by the City of Sarasota and Venice respectively, are also maintained by the county.
The Florida Clean Air Act applies to a wide range of beaches, and in a statement to the Herald-Tribune, a Sarasota County spokesperson outlined the county’s next steps regarding smoking.
“Sarasota County continues to evaluate House Bill 105, which was recently signed by Governor (Ron) DeSantis, for potential changes to county ordinances,” the statement read.
“As we move through the assessment process, we always ask our beach visitors to pack what they pack, including cigarette waste, and respect others who also enjoy our wonderful amenities. “
Four beaches—Anna Maria Bayfront Park, Coquina Beach, Manatee Beach, and Palma Sola Causeway Park—are under Manatee County jurisdiction. According to Manatee County Information Officer Bill Logan, the county commission sets and modifies all county policies, including for beaches.
Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Manager Charlie Hunsicker said in a statement, “With virtually every beach cleanup campaign – through volunteers and our own staff – we see the same patterns as many other Florida public beaches, that of a preponderance of non-recyclable cigarette butts that add plastic fibers to our already overloaded Gulf of Mexico environment in ways that are both harmful to animal life and our own experiences family oriented beach resorts.
City of Sarasota
City attorney Robert Fournier brought the matter to the attention of the city commission at the July 5 meeting. Former mayor and current commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, as well as current mayor Erik Arroyo, also weighed in.
Ahearn-Koch, who was present at a July 1 press conference in Lido Key Beach marking the new law, said she was “so thrilled that we finally have the ability in the city of Sarasota to regulate at the level local and the rest of the Florida cities have this capability.
At the July 5 meeting, Ahearn-Koch supported swift action on the issue.
“I would say moving as fast as possible would be my leaning towards that,” Ahearn-Koch said.
Ahearn-Koch explained his position, saying a smoking ban is “an important piece of the puzzle, that we are doing everything we can to keep our beaches and our natural environment natural and clean.” She also mentioned that residents and visitors were in favor of a ban.
Noting that seabirds migrate to local beaches, Ahearn-Koch stressed the need for “responsible and environmentally friendly” action, while creating designated areas near the beach for those who smoke.
Arroyo agreed with Ahearn-Koch, noting the new authority given to local governments at that July 5 meeting.
“This bill has been a champion in bringing power back to municipalities and counties,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo noted that in his experience, cigarettes are found on beaches more often than cigars, which makes it reasonable for the law to distinguish between the two.
Town of Longboat Key
Allen Parsons, director of planning, zoning and construction for the town of Longboat Key, said the city commission will address the issue when he returns from his summer vacation Sept. 12. At the final pre-holiday meeting, the commission directed staff to prepare an ordinance “that would be able to take advantage of this change in state law and prohibit smoking except in designated areas of beaches. or city parks,” according to Parsons.
Parsons expects the enforcement to be similar to how other regulations apply to Longboat Key beaches, such as fire bans and dog bans. Parsons called it “responsive enforcement,” whereby bathers call the police department when they see a violation.
“I think the primary intent is to keep beaches clean, not necessarily to regulate behavior, but the unfortunate side effects of those who smoke on the beach, that sometimes they don’t throw away their butts,” Parsons said.
City of Anna Maria
When contacted by email, LeAnne Addy, Town of Anna Maria Clerk and Treasurer, said that a possible ban “will be discussed at an upcoming town commission meeting. However, this meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet, according to Addy.