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Politics / Issues
Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Local Governments Could Soon Regulate Tobacco Use At Public Beaches And Parks

 Lawmakers say limiting tobacco use on beaches like this one on Amelia Island could boost tourism
Lawmakers say limiting tobacco use on beaches like this one on Amelia Island could boost tourism

Lawmakers want to give local governments the ability to regulate tobacco use on city and county owned property like parks and beaches. But some are worried about what those changes could mean for the rights of smokers.

FL Rep. Thad Altman (R-Indialantic) is behind a bill that would let local governments regulate the use of tobacco in publicly owned parks and beaches.

“People smoking cigarettes near baseball dugouts, or on the boardwalk on the beach, or in other venues where the smoke was interfering and encroaching on non-smokers— local governments realized they had no way of resolving those conflicts,” Altman says.

Altman says he thinks hill bill walks the line of allowing local governments to protect citizens by making rules about where on city or county-owned property smoking is allowed, without infringing the ability of people who enjoy tobacco, to continue doing so.

"[The bill] would give local governments the opportunity to resolve those conflicts and try to protect the rights of all," Altman says. "Right now, local government’s hands are tied. If you have a picnic or a family reunion and you have somebody right next to you smoking—technically there’s nothing a local government could do there. So they could have smoking areas, or pavilions or picnic benches that do allow smoking and others do not.”

Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) is sponsoring similar legislation in his chamber. He says the issue goes beyond the immediate impacts of the people using the beaches and parks that day. Litter associated with cigarettes can have an environmental and even economic impact.

“You know its disgusting to have that second-hand smoke hit you, or have your kids put their hands in the sand and pick out those cigarette butts," Gruters says. "But you know, we are fortunate enough to be home to Siesta Key Beach—one of the number one beaches a couple of times over the last 10 years, and numerous beaches around Florida have had that ranking and every time you get that ranking it leads to more tourism—not only for the area, but for the entire state. And Doctor Beach, who awards those rankings gives bonus points to beaches that are smoke free. So if we want to continue to drive tourism to our local economies we would support this great bill.”

Lawmakers say in the last few years, Florida has had points taken of its rankings because of cigarette trash on its beaches. Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) proposed an amendment in the Senate he says takes that into account, while reducing the impact smokers might face. He wants to exempt cigars and pipe tobacco from the legislation.

“The issue is littering. So in an attempt to balance personal liberties with the littering problem, this just says we’re all in agreement, we would love to have clean beaches. So let’s not penalize the folks that literally just have leaves in parks,” Brodeur says.

Brodeur’s amendment passed in the Senate. Some members of the House say they’d like to see similar language added to their version of the bill.

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