INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Smoking and leaving your butts stubbed out in the sand on the city's beach could cost you $500.
That is the fine the City Commission wants to impose in a new litter ordinance it will consider at its Jan. 10 meeting.
The ordinance would not ban smoking. It just prohibits leaving smoking-related litter behind.
After an hour-long workshop with county and state health officials last week, commissioners appeared poised to enact a stiff fine to discourage smoking on the beach.
They stopped short of out-right banning smoking, largely because of a Florida law that currently prevents local governments from enacting smoke-free regulations.
That law did not stop Gulfport, however, which banned smoking last month on its beach, athletic fields and on playgrounds. Violators there face a $97 fine.
Gulfport is also is considering strengthening its litter ordinance to raise those fines $50 to $143 if uncontested and to $188 if contested in court.
The idea for a significantly stiffer fine in Indian Rocks Beach was suggested by City Attorney Maura Kiefer.
"Why not make it a big fine?" Kiefer asked, stressing that the commission has the ability to pass an anti-litter ordinance targeting cigarette butts.
"To me, money talks. It would be a huge deterrent," Kiefer said.
She also strongly recommended that the city pass a resolution in support of two bills being considered by the state Legislature that would allow municipalities to regulate smoking outdoors.
Residents attending the meeting appeared split on whether to regulate smoking on the beach.
Even some non-smokers were opposed to any new regulations. Others agreed with Kiefer that a large fine would sharply reduce the litter on the beach.
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More than 200,000 cigarette butts were picked up on the beaches during a statewide coastal cleanup campaign last year, according to Deborah Shaffer, program manager for the Pinellas County Health Department.
Cigarette butts, often found within 10 feet of a designated ashtray, make up 20 percent of all litter found on Pinellas County's 35 miles of beaches. Eighty percent of the butts end up in the Gulf of Mexico, she said.
"The issue is litter, but it is also health," Shaffer said. "The bottom line is this litter poses a health hazard and costs money."
Each cigarette butt contains 165 different chemicals and can take up to 20 years to degrade, Lucy Gonzalez-Barr, coordinator for Region 7 of the Florida Department of Health, told the commission.
Carolyn Smith, a volunteer with the Pinellas Tobacco-Free Coalition, said 52 Florida municipalities and counties have enacted ordinances and resolutions regulating smoking on the beaches and public places.
"We don't care if people smoke, but we do care if our grandchildren pick up filthy cigarette butts," said Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin, who previously met with residents calling for a smoke-free beach.
She wants another workshop, but the rest of the commission appeared ready to enact the $500 fine for leaving cigarette butts on the beach.
"I am personally interested in some kind of signage with a greater fine," said Mayor R.B. Johnson, asking Kiefer to prepare an ordinance for consideration at the commission's Jan. 10 meeting.
"I think there are a lot of people out there who don't know they (cigarette butts) are not biodegradable — and they do think the beach is an ashtray," Commissioner Cookie Kennedy said.
She called for signs similar to national anti-litter bug campaigns she remembered from her childhood.
But it was Vice Mayor Phil Hanna who drew the most applause and even laughter for his sign idea.
"I see a real cute picture of a family and all you are seeing are little tushies and it says the only butts allowed on the beach are yours," he said.