Pinellas County could become one of the first counties in Florida to ban smoking on its beaches.
The Board of County Commissioners discussed that possibility Thursday during a work session, a result of a recent change to state law that allows counties and municipalities to restrict smoking on public beaches and in parks. The board will vote on a no-smoking ordinance at a future commission meeting.
The ban would prohibit smoking on county-controlled beach sand and dunes, but not adjacent lands such as grassy areas and campgrounds. It would apply to the county’s beach parks — Fort De Soto, Sand Key and Fred Howard — and to beach access parks co-managed by the county and municipalities. Those include Tiki Gardens in Indian Shores, said Paul Cozzie, the county’s director of parks and conservation resources.
It would fall to other cities to implement a ban on other public beaches in the county, something Cozzie said most or all of the county’s beach communities plan to do. The St. Petersburg City Council is set to vote next month on a citywide ban on smoking in beaches and parks. Cozzie said Miami-Dade and Manatee counties also are contemplating a ban, but no other counties with a similar beach makeup are.
The ban would be meant as a largely environmental measure, Cozzie said. He cited statistics from Keep Pinellas Beautiful, which found in its last full-scale annual beach clean-up, before the pandemic, that cigarette butts were the top type of litter on the county’s beaches, with 19,000 of them found. A truncated clean-up last year found 14,000 butts.
“We don’t want to make this an issue of whether you should smoke or not smoke,” Cozzie said. “We really wanted to address the litter, the impact on the wildlife and the waterways.”
Based on current county rules, citations for smoking ban violations would likely start at $118, though the county could set a different amount, Cozzie said. But the county would focus on signage and voluntary compliance, and fines would be rare.
Commissioners signaled that they were generally in favor of the ban, though some had questions: Could they establish designated smoking areas at places like Fort De Soto, which, with its swathes of grass and picnic shelters, has plenty of space that wouldn’t be covered by the ban? And what to do about people who skirt a ban by smoking in the water, or bringing unfiltered cigars, which are exempt under state law?
Commissioner Kathleen Peters said she wasn’t worried: The county can put up general “no smoking” signs that site state statute; most people won’t bother to look for loopholes or exceptions.
“I don’t know how messy, when the rubber hits the road, it’s going to be,” she said. “I don’t think it’ll be a big mess.”
Though tamping down on litter would be the main intent of the ban, commissioners said they hoped it would improve beachgoers’ experiences, too.
“I have to believe there’s some part of it that’s public enjoyment,” Commission Chairperson Charlie Justice said. “I have to imagine if there’s someone next to you going through a pack, it doesn’t make your day at the beach very enjoyable.”