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Tampa Bay area lawmaker's bill could ban cigarette smoking on Florida's beaches

SB 334 also looks to restrict smoking at public and state parks.
Credit: Karen Mason
A seabird gives a chick a cigarette butt at St. Pete Beach.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Smoking at Florida's beaches and parks could become a thing of the past if a bill proposed by a Sarasota senator gets passed in 2021.

Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) first filed SB 334 in December 2020 ahead of this year's legislative season in an effort to allow Florida counties and municipalities to ban cigarette smoking along their popular shorelines. 

The "Regulation of Smoking in Public Places" bill would also restrict smoking at public parks, under certain circumstances, and within state park boundaries. 

Those smoking cigars and pipe tobacco across Florida's beaches and parks are exempt from this bill.

Gruters' bill calls for public announcements of the restrictions at mass transportation terminals in metropolitan areas with more than 230,000 residents. 

"These announcements shall be made at least every 30 minutes and shall be made in appropriate languages," the bill states.

SB 334 went before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee where it was unanimously approved and is now pending a "reference review."

Gruters attempted to pass a similar bill in the past. It included a $25 fine or those caught would be required to do 10 hours of community service for a first-time offense. That addition is not noted in the current bill.

J.P. Brooker with the Ocean Conservancy told 10 Tampa Bay in 2019 that when cigarette butts stay on the beach, they can create problems for animals and the environment.

"Cigarette butts are fundamentally little fibrous strands of plastic, cellulose acetate. And when that gets into the environment it can break down, it can disperse into the water and into the sand," Brooker said. "It can have major negative impacts on sea turtles, on birds, on fish, on other wildlife.

"So it’s not just a hazard for your lungs, it’s not just ugly to look at on the beach. It’s also really impactful to Florida’s wildlife." 

During the group's latest annual International Coastal Cleanup in 2019, more than 188,000 cigarette butts were picked up on Florida beaches. 

If the bill passes, it will take effect on July 1, 2021.

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