What began as a workshop discussion to try to find ways to limit or ban smoking cheap Glamour cigarettes in public parks and on the beach, ended up with a likely crackdown on people who improperly dispose of their cigarette butts.
If a proposed ordinance is passed by the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission in January, smokers could face a $500 fine if they litter the beach with their cigarette butts.
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin met with a number of citizens who favor a smoke-free environment in the parks and beaches in Indian Rocks Beach and she came away convinced that something had to be done. So in a special hour-long workshop Dec. 13, the commission heard a presentation from health professionals and an anti-smoking group as to the hazards of secondhand smoke in public places.
Lucy Gonzalez-Barr of the Florida Department of Health told the commission that cigarette butts left on the beach are a health hazard in that they contain 165 different forms of chemicals, and they do not disintegrate. In fact, she said the butts pose a hazard to wildlife, thus upsetting Florida’s eco-system. She said on one clean-up day in California recently 230,000 cigarette butts were recovered from the sand. In addition she said secondhand smoke causes 50,000 deaths a year in the United States.
Deborah Shaffer of the Pinellas County Health Department echoed those sentiments and pointed out that 1 in 5 pieces of litter picked up on the beach is a cigarette butt. She said most butts are found within 10 feet of an ashtray. Like Gonzalez-Barr, Shaffer had statistics to support her claims. She said in the 2010 Intracoastal Waterway cleanup in Pinellas County, 205,000 cigarette butts were recovered; 13,000 cigar tips, 3,500 lighters and 5,700 empty packs – all smoking-related trash. She said in a recent survey on Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, 96 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t like the idea that a child could pick up a cigarette butt while playing in the sand.
The third speaker in the group was Carolyn Smith of the Tobacco-Free Coalition in Pinellas County. She told the commissioners that several dozen towns and cities in Florida have passed some sort of resolution or ordinance limiting or banning smoking in parks or on beaches. She noted that the Florida legislature is considering two separate bills designed to toughen the laws against smoking in public places.
But, the anti-smoking push of the guest experts was slowed somewhat by the commissioners who appeared reluctant to pass any laws restricting smokers. Vice Mayor Phil Hanna moved the discussion to the litter aspect of smoking. He recounted a story of watching a woman smoking on the beach, then disposed of her butt in the sand despite a receptacle being just a few feet away. Commissioner Cookie Kennedy said she grew up in Indian Rocks Beach and never once had a smoker sit down next to her on the beach. Mayor R.B. Johnson wondered just how much the town should involve itself in matters of civility.
“People have accepted smoking as a right,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to keep an open mind in the face of strong opinions on both sides.”
Hamilton-Wollin continued the theme and noted that it is going to take a strong anti-litter ordinance to, “eliminate those filthy, disgusting cigarette butts, that seagulls still see as food and die horrible deaths,” she said. “We don’t care if people smoke, we do care that little children pick up butts.”
Several residents expressed concern over more rules aimed at curbing smoking. All professed to be non-smokers.
Resident David Martin said, “I’m getting tired of having my tax dollars used to pass more laws. What’s next, banning hot dogs because the meat isn’t healthy for you?”
Bruce Sobut chimed in, “We don’t enforce the rules we have. Start enforcing what we have now.”
Jo Nocera added; “I’m appalled at the amount of trash. Bring in a $500 fine. We’re just not all well behaved,” she said.
That’s just what the commissioners will consider. City Attorney Maura Kiefer was asked to draft an ordinance implementing a $500 fine for anyone caught littering with cigarette butts on the beach or in the parks. It will be dealt with at the next commission meeting on Jan. 10.
As for tougher measures against smoking in those public places that’s been put off for the time being.