TREASURE ISLAND — Residents will have an opportunity to voice their opinion on whether smoking and vaping should be banned on the beach or in city parks during a City Commission workshop next month.
On June 24, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that allows counties and cities to ban smoking on their beaches and in their parks. However, the smoking of unfiltered cigars cannot be regulated. Pinellas County beach cities are now deciding whether to enact the smoking ban.
During an Aug. 2 City Commission workshop, Treasure Island Mayor Tyler Payne said at a recent meeting of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, “the rest of the beach cities are all looking at doing something, and they would all like to have something consistent as possible up and down the Gulf beaches.”
“I’m fine leading the way on it,” Payne told fellow commissioners. “If it’s not super-complicated, we can even go with something not super-restrictive. The primary reason for doing it is to prevent some of the littering of cigarette butts. I definitely want to do that, but I don’t have a strong feeling on vaping.” He said the smell isn’t as harsh to people and vaping doesn’t produce litter.
“I have heard from a lot of residents asking us, when we are going to adopt something?” Payne said. “I talked to the city manager about that; from what I heard we’re kind of waiting on some other city to adopt it.”
City Attorney Jennifer Cowan said it won’t be complicated to write an ordinance that follows the state regulation. “One thing to think about is the enforcement issue,” she advised. “My expectation is it will probably be enforced by the citation method used now for any other beach infraction like glass on the beach.”
Cowan told commissioners she knows some cities are not going to move forward while others are very passionate about it. “I just need direction on what the commission is looking to restrict and where, an ordinance can be brought back in a few weeks,” she said.
Commissioner Beth Wetzel cautioned that there’s a lot going on at the moment with Charter Review questions, the Comprehensive Plan revision and other city legislation being proposed. She said it might be prudent to let some of those issues get resolved while other cities iron out the technicalities of a smoking ban.
Commissioner Saleene Partridge agreed. “Let them work out the kinks … because there’s going to be some pushback, there always is,” she said. Sometimes “it’s best not to be the first pioneer,” she added.
Commissioner John Doctor said the topic did come up at the last Treasure Island-Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce meeting and representatives said “they are very interested in moving forward, but they would like to see what occurs not only in Pinellas County but throughout the state.”
He added, “I think the businesses and everybody are on board, but everybody doesn’t want to be the first; they would like to see it kind of settle down a little bit, see what happens, what gets approved and move forward from there.”
Commissioner Deborah Toth said constituents have reached out to see what the commission is going to do. “You go to the beach and sit down in the sand and you’ve got cigarette butts on your feet; it’s kind of gross,” she said.
Payne said he would expect a “culture shift” at first. “Everyone said it will be really hard to enforce not smoking in restaurants when that got rolled out, but now you don’t even think about the fact that nobody is smoking in a restaurant.
“Once other cities start to do this, and it just becomes known public knowledge that you can’t smoke on the beach, then it will hopefully take care of itself,” he said.
Commissioner Wetzel suggested it be put on a workshop agenda to give the public a chance to weigh in on the issue.
City Manager Amy Davis said there are three questions that will need to be explored and addressed by commissioners: whether to include vaping or not; whether the ban should involve both beaches and parks; and whether the beach should have smoking and non-smoking sections.
Commissioners decided the topic will be discussed at workshop on Sept. 19. If all issues are decided upon at that meeting, it could be placed on an agenda in October for a vote.