ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Next time you head outside to enjoy St. Petersburg's beautiful public parks and beaches, you may want to leave your cigarettes at home.
City leaders voted unanimously Thursday to ban smoking and vaping at public parks and beaches, including the St. Pete Pier, North Shore Beach, Maximo Beach and St. Pete Municipal Beach in Treasure Island.
St. Pete Beach will not be impacted by the ban, as it is its own municipality.
The ordinance was first introduced in St. Pete after state leaders cleared the way for local municipalities to pass their own rules when it comes to smoking in public places.
Some critics raised questions about whether the new rule might be used by law enforcement to disproportionately target people experiencing homelessness.
“I don’t think that’s the intent of this,” said community activist William Kilgore. “But I think that that may be an issue with it that could be possible.”
Supporters of the ban, however, say it would come as a welcome change to our wildlife and environment.
“Over 80 percent of our litter starts off on land and ends up in our waterways. We should be respectful of our environment no matter what it is," Patricia DePlasco, executive director of Keep Pinellas Beautiful, said last month.
According to DePlasco, hundreds of cigarette butts are collected each month during beach cleanups.
City staffers say the ban won't be enforced right away. First, they'll launch an educational campaign and post signs to get the word out.
Then, starting sometime next year, smokers who violate the restrictions could face fines of up to $93 per infraction.
"I think it’s shocking when we sit back and think that some of the cigarette butts could take up to 150 years to degrade. That’s horrific," said St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Director Mike Jefferis.