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New law gives local governments authority to ban smoking on Florida beaches

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law Friday.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill authorizing local governments to restrict smoking on public Florida beaches and parks.

Local leaders now have full jurisdiction in regulating smoking at beaches. This could include the creation of designated smoking zones and fines, stricter laws on the disposal of cigarette butts and even an outright ban. 

One exception exists with regard to the smoking of unfiltered cigars. 

Entitled the "Florida Clean Air Act," its purpose is to protect the public from the health hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke, according to the Florida Senate's bill summary.

In this summary, smoking is defined as "inhaling, exhaling, burning, carrying, or possessing any lighted tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and any other lighted tobacco product."

The Ocean Conservancy showed its support for the new bill in a release on Friday. For 31 years, cigarette butts have been the most frequently found type of litter on Florida beaches during its annual International Coastal Cleanup.

“This is a major victory for the health of our beaches and seas throughout the Sunshine State," Jon Brooker, director of Florida Conservation at Ocean Conservancy, said in a statement. "Cigarette butts may be small, but they have a lasting, harmful effect on our environment."

According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts are the fourth most harmful type of plastic to marine life. Animals like seabirds, turtles and marine mammals can ingest the small butts, which contaminate waters. 

Cigarette butts are made of tightly packed plastic fibers that erode into even smaller bits; adding to the microplastic problem in wildlife. These smaller bits accumulate in fish and other organisms, the release said. This harms animals as well as humans who ingest sick fish.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, for a couple of years has tried to get the anti-smoking proposal into law. Although his bill did not advance in the Senate, Gruters earlier this year explained the need to get the "butts off the beach."

"We want freedom but at the same time, we want quiet and peaceful enjoyment of families being able to go out there and go to the beach without putting their hands in the sand and picking up some of these cigarette butts," he said.

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