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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
AP Florida

Volusia, Flagler push for beach smoking ban


Published:

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH – When Skip Beeler strolled the smoke-free beaches of California, he noticed the difference right away.

The beaches seemed more pristine than the stretch of sand he was accustomed to on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

“They just looked so much better and so much cleaner,” said Beeler, who served as mayor of Cocoa Beach and led an unsuccessful fight to ban smoking on the beach there. “We had some areas where it looked like you were walking through sea shells, but it wasn’t seashells. It was cigarette butts.”

Here in Volusia and Flagler, smoking bans are gaining momentum. Daytona International Speedway prohibited smoking in the grandstands, a milestone for a sport that once was closely tied to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona State College and Stetson University have snuffed out tobacco on campus.

Public health officials would like to extend those bans even further by prohibiting smoking on beaches and in parks. They point to mounds of cigarette butts littering the beaches – and the dangers of secondhand smoke – as reasons why lighting up shouldn’t be allowed on Volusia and Flagler’s shoreline.

But even if the political will existed locally to enact such a ban, cities and counties are prohibited from restricting smoking outdoors. Only the state can make those changes. Counties and cities can post signs asking the public not to smoke, but state law leaves local officials powerless to enforce the rules.

Teresa Williams, tobacco prevention specialist for the Flagler County Health Department, would like to see that change, and she suspects many others in the community would agree.

“We are starting to see a turn socially in smoking,” she said. “People are almost becoming closet smokers. I’d like it turned over to our locals and let them make the decision for where we live.”

A bill filed in the Florida Legislature last session would have done just that, but it stalled. That put a stop to an effort in Flagler County to nix smoking outside county buildings.

State Sen. Rob Bradey, who sponsored the bill, said he plans to introduce the legislation again next session, but doubts it will pass in the House, which was especially opposed to giving local governments the ability to snuff out beach smoking.

The Fleming Island Republican said he introduced the bill because he was concerned about smoking around playgrounds in parks, and he’d consider dropping beaches from the legislation if it strengthened its chances of passing.

For Sally Wood, a Port Orange smoker, it doesn’t make sense to ban smoking outdoors. She said she always throws away her cigarette butts and tries to stay away from nonsmokers.

“You are not close enough to anyone to be bothersome,” she said between puffs.

Wood questioned how a ban on smoking at the beach could affect tourism. Smoking rates are on the decline nationally, but about two out of every 10 adults in Volusia and Flagler light up, according to Florida Department of Health statistics.

The tourism community doesn’t view a smoking ban for beaches and parks as imminent, said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Volusia County. If local governments could make the call, Davis said he would poll his membership and decide how to respond.

Although Wood says she is careful not to litter, beach cleanup crews report cigarette butts are the most common type of trash found on the shore, said Sallie O’Hara, who coordinates litter pickup events for Friends of A1A.

“We’ve got to address smoker behavior not to dispose of cigarette butts on the beach,” she said. “It’s harmful to our environment and to human health.”

The butts, which are picked up by the bucketful during cleanup events, are eaten by migratory birds and other wildlife, O’Hara said.

Other states – especially California – have embraced smoke-free beaches, according to a list compiled by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Many of the beaches cataloged in the Beach Boys’ classic song “Surfin’ U.S.A.” no longer allow smoking, including Del Mar, Manhattan and Redondo beaches.

In 2006, Beeler pushed for Cocoa Beach – another community renowned for its surfing – to become smoke free. The issue made it on the ballot, and the town’s attorney thought he’d found a way to get around the state’s restriction on local smoke bans.

The issue sparked controversy, and a political action committee formed to fight the ban, Beeler said. Opponents accused the city of playing the role of nanny state and limiting the freedom of residents. When it went to a vote, the measure failed with 53 percent of residents casting dissenting votes. Beeler suspects that result might be different if the election were held today because of changes in public sentiment.

Earlier this year, the courts struck down Sarasota County’s prohibition against smoking on beaches and in parks, along with a $100 fine for violating the ban.

Going forward, local government – not the state – should be able to debate the issue, said Pat Northey, a longtime Volusia County councilwoman who said she would support a smoking ban for beaches.

“Whenever you can govern at the local level, it’s the best government, because people who can’t travel to Tallahassee will get an opportunity to express their views,” she said.

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