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Bill would allow local governments to ban smoking at beaches, parks

Cigarette on the beach
Cigarette on the beach (Capitol News Service)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The word “indoor” may soon be dropped from Florida’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

The decision to ban smoking on beaches and in parks could soon be in the hands of local governments if a new bill becomes law.

Cigarette butts are one of the most commonly littered items and when they end up in environmentally sensitive areas, such as beaches and parks, they pose a great risk to wildlife.

“There’s obviously chemicals like formaldehyde. The filter is the worst part of the cigarette from a litter perspective,” said Aliki Moncrief, with the Florida Conservation Voters.

Adding fuel to the fight, health experts -- such as Mark Landreth, with the American Heart Association -- assert even outdoor second-hand smoke can impact the health of others.

“There are many, many clinical studies on the effects of second-hand smoke and every one of them talks about how bad it is for other individuals who are around the smoker,” Lendreth said.

But the new bill would give local governments the ability to ban smoking at their local beaches and parks.

“This is a decision that the local government should be able to make. Listen, we’re talking about parks where kids are going,” said state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, who is co-sponsoring the bill in the Florida Senate.

Last year, there was an effort for a statewide smoking ban on beaches and at state parks.

Laura Youmans, with the Florida Association of Counties, said this year’s effort allows communities to decide what’s best for them.

“You may want to allow smoking. You may not have a problem in that community, and some communities may have a concern with litter or the health consequences,” Youmans said.

Environmentalists hope that, if the bill passes, it could lead to the repeal of other preemptions the state has imposed on other environmental policies such as plastic bag and styrofoam bans.

“Local governments in Florida are actually leading the way on really good environmental policies. Nine times out of ten, the state Legislature has been trying to take away local power,” Moncrief said.

The bill was scheduled Monday for its first committee hearing in the Senate. It received unanimous approval.

If the bill crosses the finish line, local governments could begin to enact smoking bans on July 1, 2020.