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Florida gov chooses side in sunscreen debate: Slather away!

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When it comes to sunscreen, skin cancer and coral reefs, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken the side of sun worshipers who have gotten tacit approval to slather away.

The Republican governor late Monday announced that he signed into law a measure that reverses a ban on sunscreen imposed by Key West to help protect reefs and the fragile ecosystem they host.

The bill was one of 28 signed into law by DeSantis late Monday.

Key West is a popular destination among fishermen, snorkelers and scuba divers drawn to the reefs anchored offshore. It wouldn’t have been the first place to ban sunscreen to keep those ecosystems safe. Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean island of Bonaire and the archipelago nation of Palau in the western Pacific all enacted sunscreen bans.

Drug store chain CVS also announced in August that it would remove the chemicals from 60 of its store brand sunscreen products, and it and other companies are now marketing mineral-based “reef safe” sunscreen.

But DeSantis sided with health and sunscreen advocates who argued that people's health outweighed the threat to coral reefs.

Some lawmakers expressed doubt in studies that concluded sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate do harm to coral. More persuasive, they said, were the health risks posed by the sun to unprotected skin. They noted that there is indisputable evidence that direct exposure to the sun’s rays increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

Opponents of the bill asserted that there were products less harmful to the environment, including Zinc-based creams. And they argued that the measure was a preemption of local authority by a Legislature that shouldn’t be meddling in local affairs.

The ordinance was set to go into effect on Jan. 1 of next year, but has now been preempted with the governor’s signature.

Years ago, Key West officials and environmentalists might have gotten word of the governor's action via telegraph. But those days are officially over in Florida, replaced by ubiquitous smart phones that can send messages with fewer taps of one's fingers.

With a stroke of his pen, the governor also repealed Chapter 363 in its entirety from Florida statute on Monday. The law was adopted more than a century ago and remained mostly unchanged since 1913.