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Bill to Allow Smoking Ban at Florida Beaches and Parks Gains Support

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SARASOTA, FL – An effort to ban smoking and cigarette butts at Florida public beaches and parks is gaining support from lawmakers and community activists.

At a news conference at Lido Beach Park today, Republican State Sen. Joe Gruter stood alongside Ocean Conservancy representatives to announce he’s sponsoring a bill to allow counties and municipalities to ban smoking on public beaches, and in state parks. As part of the event, giant cigarette butt sculptures were temporarily placed in the sand to draw attention to the problem.

“Florida beaches are the economic engine of our state. People travel from around the world to visit our pristine shorelines and enjoy the Sunshine State’s natural beauty. We must do everything that we can to protect our most valuable asset,” Sen. Joe Gruters said.

“Cigarette butts may be small, but they have a lasting, harmful effect on our environment. They are universally the number one littered item on beaches,” Jon Paul “J.P.” Brooker, director of Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy said. “We cannot allow this damage to continue, which is why we stand in full support of Sen. Gruters’ bill to bring this positive change to our state.”

Ocean Conservancy is the nation’s oldest marine conservation non-profit organization. During its annual International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts have been the most commonly found item on Florida beaches for the past 31 years and counting.

Cigarette butts are also a major part of plastic pollution. They 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.

To create awareness about this issue, local Sarasota artist Erin Ernst created giant cigarette butt sculptures to place in the sand during the Lido Beach news conference. After doing many beach cleanups with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, they realized just how many cigarette butts were left as trash.

“We are really excited to be a part of this. I decided to have my kids work on the cigarette butt art with me as a project during Christmas break. It’s a way to show them that they can make a difference and create change in our community even at a young age,” Erin Ernst said.

Change is needed to prevent serious consequences. Too much plastic can increase the sand’s temperature by collecting more heat from the sun. This hurts sea turtles that build their nests on Florida beaches because sand temperature determines the sex of hatchling sea turtles. If the sand gets too hot, sea turtle sex ratios could be disrupted, threatening healthy reproduction.

Gruters’s bill to ban cigarettes on beaches, SB224, has already passed one committee, and there is a similar bill in the House, HB 105. While Florida already bans smoking at indoor workplaces and restaurants, cities and counties can’t yet enact local ordinances to further restrict smoking.

An annual ranking of the country’s best beaches conducted by Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman deducts points for beaches that allow smoking. Gruters has acknowledged that Florida beaches are at risk of losing top ratings and tourism dollars, if cigarette butts remain an issue.

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Jon Paul “J.P.” Brooker is available for interviews upon request.

Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit http://www.oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

 

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