New Law Allows Communities to Ban Beach Smoking

Staff Report
SARASOTA — A new Florida statute that took effect July 1 allows local governments to ban smoking at beaches and parks. Manatee County officials say they will examine their policy options in light of the new opportunity to regulate an ongoing environmental threat to local beaches.

Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit that focuses on protecting the oceans, was one of the groups that advocated for the law.

"Ocean Conservancy leaders stood up and advocated for this very important law. For too long, cigarette butts have hurt our environment," said JP Brooker, director of Florida Conservation at Ocean Conservancy. "This is a huge step for Florida, and we are beyond thrilled that our communities can finally put a stop to this devastating issue."

Florida Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Beach), held a news conference last Friday with Dr. Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach) at Lido Key Beach to highlight the law going into effect.

"Our beaches are the centerpiece of our community and our most valuable, precious resource," said Gruters. "Removing cigarette butts will protect our beautiful white sands and wildlife, so that visitors will keep coming back to support our local economy."

"Manatee County certainly will examine the opportunities and limitations in the new statute," Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker told TBT, noting that any changes would have to be approved by the county commission. "With virtually every beach cleanup campaign—through volunteers and our own staff—we see the same patterns of many other public beaches throughout Florida, that of a preponderance of non-recyclable cigarette butts that add plastic fibers to our already overloaded Gulf of Mexico environment in a manner both harmful to animal life and our own family-oriented beach experiences."

"Dr. Beach" praised the new statute and said he hoped other Florida beaches would follow Sarasota County's lead. 

"I am so pleased that this new law as proposed and promoted by State Senator Joe Gruters was signed by Governor DeSantis, and I am sure that Sarasota will again take the lead in prohibiting smoking on their beautiful beaches,” said Leatherman. "Hopefully, other beach communities statewide will also pass regulations to make their beaches cleaner and healthier.”

Cigarette butts may be small, but they have a lasting, harmful effect on our environment. Ocean Conservancy says their research has found cigarette butts to be the fourth most harmful type of plastic to marine life due to ingestion and contamination. The butts are made of tightly packed plastic fibers that erode into smaller bits, which accumulate in fish and other organisms. This not only impacts animal health and reproductivity but also human health when people consume sick fish. 

For the past 31 years and counting, cigarette butts have been the most commonly found item on Florida beaches during Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.

"Now that the law is officially in place, Ocean Conservancy is urging local governments to take action to implement these new rules," Brooker said. "We know our leaders care about protecting our seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals. Taking this historic step to save our environment is exciting."

Reader Comments
Keith Ludwig
JUL 10, 2022  •  A new Bureacracy will most likely be started on this one! The police that comb the beach for smokers of filtered cigarettes. Does this disclose vaping or unfiltered cigarettes? Hey wait, plastic materials on the beach, does this then call for the removal of disposable diapers? Now we might need 2 beaches, smoking and non-smoking. Kinda like straight beaches and alternate lifestyle beaches. The only thing worse than filters on the beach might be the self-righteousness of people that can't see life from a different perspective. Grant it cigarette butts are not nice, neither is second hand smoke but we just might wind up with tobacco chewers that can spit and I don't see a law about that.
David Levin
JUL 09, 2022  •  I’m not a fan of piling on regulations, but I wouldn’t fight this. I would be all in on police not being allowed to dip on duty—it gives them a buzz.
Brian Kalmbach
JUL 08, 2022  •  Great law, but doesn't go far enough. Should include all smoking
Brett Davis
JUL 08, 2022  •  Great law! Ciggy butts are a lot more toxic to the environment than most folks think. Smokers flick these things as if there’re environmentally benign. That can’t be furthest from the truth.
Brett Davis
JUL 08, 2022  •  A great law. Ciggy butts are highly toxic litter, doing all sorts of malignant damage to the environment
JUL 08, 2022  •  Excellent. This falls under littering, to include gum, etc. Shame you have to pile on law after law for the pigs that people can be, but I'm behind this 1000%