St. Petersburg City Council committee gives green light to ban smoking in parks and beaches

Posted August 25|Updated August 25

ST. PETERSBURG — Patricia DePlasco brought a transparent tube the size of a poster case filled with cigarette butts. They had been retrieved from a robot that was cleaning a single strip, two inches deep and as wide as a golf cart, of 16 Pinellas County beaches.

DePlasco, the executive director of Keep Pinellas Beautiful, told the St. Petersburg City Council’s health, energy, resilience and sustainability committee that between 4.5 and 5 trillion cigarette butts 6.5 trillion purchased are thrown away every year worldwide, or about 75% of cigarette butts are not properly disposed of.

A cigarette butt lies on the rocks of the embankment of Demens Landing Park in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

She continues: Cigarette butts make up 40% of litter recovered from cities and beaches during international clean-up campaigns, according to The Ocean Conservancy. They take about 150 years to decompose while releasing carcinogenic substances.

The proposed smoking ban in parks and beaches in St. Petersburg aims to reduce such litter. The draft ordinance unanimously approved by the commission on Thursday will go before the full city council in September. The rule would take effect immediately, but would not be enforced until January 1, 2023.

“Obviously the numbers are right in front of me to prove there is a problem,” DePlasco said. “And it’s a shame that smokers can’t put their butts in their place.”

The Florida legislature has previously blocked local governments from banning smoking. But that changed this summer with the passage of House Bill 105, which allowed counties and municipalities to further restrict smoking on public beaches and in parks under certain circumstances. Unfiltered cigars are exempt from the ban as they have no plastic filters.

Cigarette butts litter the edge of the walkway leading to the water at Mirror Lake Park on Thursday in St. Petersburg.
Cigarette butts litter the edge of the walkway leading to the water at Mirror Lake Park on Thursday in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Saint PETERSBOURG proposal would ban smoking in all areas of the city’s public beaches and public parks. A violation of the ordinance, enforced by the police, would result in a violation of the city ordinance which could result in a fine of up to $500. The Sixth Judicial Circuit for Pasco and Pinellas Counties sets the minimum penalty as a $93 fine.

Smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, often referred to as vaping, have been banned from parks and sports facilities, including Tropicana Field since 2017.

Council member Lisset Hanewicz noted that the proposal was also good for wildlife. Hanewicz, a former federal prosecutor, said Florida was the first state to sue tobacco companies in the 1990s for healthcare costs.

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“Some people may say, ‘Oh, is that overreaching?'” she said. “You know, we regulate smoking, if it’s indoors, and that’s been happening for a long time.”

Council member Ed Montanari said the proposal was long overdue. He said he worried about children, like his own young grandchildren, who picked up trash and put it in their mouths.

“It’s just one of the many pet peeves I have when you see tobacco butts lying around,” he said. “I think some people don’t think it’s trash. And it’s.”

Council Member Richie Floyd said he was grateful for DePlasco’s presentation and Keep Pinellas Beautiful.

“I’m not super excited to go around and tell people what to do,” he said. “But it’s clear from the statistics you’ve provided that people aren’t throwing away their cigarette butts…and that’s becoming a problem.”

Marvin Walker, 43, from St. Petersburg, smokes a cigarette while sitting in the shade of Demens Landing park in St. Petersburg.
Marvin Walker, 43, from St. Petersburg, smokes a cigarette while sitting in the shade of Demens Landing park in St. Petersburg. “I smoke myself a cigarette, have a drink, and enjoy myself peacefully and quietly,” Walker said. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The approximately 90 days between the passing of the proposed ordinance and the enforcement of the ban allows ample time for an education and awareness campaign and for the city’s parks department to install signage, said city council president Gina Driscoll, who sponsored the proposal.

City Administrator Rob Gerdes said the administration supports the ban and agrees with the proposed timeline. So does Mike Jefferis, who is administrator of recreation services in the mayor’s office.

“We really think we’re going to change the culture and some norms have been in place for many, many years,” Jefferis said.

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