Florida Senate blocks local sunscreen bans

The 25-14 vote Wednesday came as Key West prepares to enforce a ban on the sale of certain sunscreens next January.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. [ STEVE CANNON | AP ]
Published Jan. 30, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Without any debate, the Florida Senate on Wednesday passed legislation that would prohibit local governments from regulating drugs and cosmetics sold over the counter.

The Senate fast-tracked the bill during this year’s legislative session after a similar proposal did not pass in 2019. The 25-14 vote Wednesday came as Key West prepares to enforce a ban on the sale of certain sunscreens next January.

City officials said last year they decided to ban sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Studies have shown the chemicals can be harmful to coral reefs, which are essential to Key West’s tourism-driven economy.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the bill (SB 172), has argued that local regulations on sunscreens would send “mixed signals” to people about the importance of using the substances to prevent skin cancer.

“Unfortunately, with all of the wonderful things that come with our beaches and our sunshine, we also rank second in the nation for the highest rate of new melanoma cases,” Bradley said during a November committee meeting.

He argued local sunscreen bans would discourage people who live and visit Florida from using sunblock to protect themselves and, as result, would put their health at risk.

Bradley said his opposition to Key West’s ban was also based on research compiled by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the Legislature’s research arm.

An Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability study found last year that oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens can have a negative effect on coral reefs and marine life when exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.”

“You have to apply (the chemicals) directly, in an intense matter to the coral reefs over a long period of time in a little, small space. We are talking about a large ocean around the coral reefs here,” Bradley said in November.

When approving the regulation last year, Key West Commissioner Jimmy Weekley argued people could still use many sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.

“I, too, am concerned about the health of the citizens of this community, but there are alternatives to what people can do. There is no alternative for the reef,” Weekley said. “But we only have one reef.”

The House has also moved quickly on a measure that is identical to the Bradley bill. The House version (HB 113), sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, will be considered Thursday by the House Health & Human Services Committee, the last committee stop before it could get a vote in the full House.

Gov. Ron DeSantis last year vetoed a proposal that would have pre-empted local regulation of plastic straws.

However, his office did not answer questions on Wednesday about the governor’s position on blocking local governments from regulating sunscreens.