No more butts on Florida Keys beaches? What you need to know about a new smoking ban

You can’t legally smoke cigarettes or pipes on several Florida Keys beaches and parks anymore.

A new law passed by Monroe County Commissioners passed in August — unanimously and without discussion — bans smoking any lighted tobacco product at county-owned beaches and parks.

Unfiltered cigars are an exception.

Also, the county is only allowed to ban tobacco products. So vaping and smoking medical marijuana are still allowed since they’re not addressed in the statute, county spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said.

The ban went into effect after the commission’s Aug. 17 meeting, with a fine of up to $100 for a first violation.

The city of Key West still allows smoking on its beaches, spokeswoman Alyson Crean said Friday. That includes Smathers Beach on South Roosevelt Boulevard.

Key West’s popular Fort Zachary Historic State Park, controlled by the state of Florida, allows smoking outdoors.

Here is a rundown of the new law:

Why did the Keys ban smoking at beaches?

The smoking ban comes from concerns about health and the environment. The ordinance mentions deadly dangers of secondhand smoke and points out that children in parks and beaches have no choice but to inhale it.

But the ordinance also points out that cigarette butts are the most common form of litter on the planet, with 4.5 trillion of the small plastic filters —jam-packed with toxic chemicals — dumped outside every year.

Cigarette filters, made of microplastics, are the most littered item worldwide and the No. 1 type of plastic litter on beaches.

And those plastic butts take years to degrade, and even then can remain harmful.

“The fibers in cigarette filters behave just like plastics in our oceans, the UV rays from our sun may break the fibers down into smaller pieces, but they don’t disappear,” according to the National Ocean Service. “One solid filter ends up being thousands of tiny microplastics.

Is this smoking ban only in the Keys?

The Sunshine State has changed position on this issue.

Until July 2022, the state of Florida didn’t allow counties and cities to ban smoking at parks and beaches. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the summer signed a bill to change that.

Soon after, Monroe County’s director of parks and beaches, John Allen, asked commissioners if they had any interest in creating a new smoking ban. They jumped at it, according to County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron, of Marathon.

“Absolutely,” Coldiron said. “No one ever picks them up. They trash up our beaches and our parks.”

Monroe County commissioners passed it at one public hearing, without discussion or anyone turning up to speak.

The county’s Facebook page on Friday was lit up with angry comments about the ban, with several people calling it government overreach.

But Coldiron said the commission hasn’t received any complaints about the new smoking rules.

Miami Beach just passed a similar smoking ban that starts Jan. 1, 2023.

Many tobacco smokers can no longer light up at Monroe County-owned beaches and parks, including the 21-acre, oceanfront Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, Florida.
Many tobacco smokers can no longer light up at Monroe County-owned beaches and parks, including the 21-acre, oceanfront Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, Florida.

What beaches are now non-smoking?

The new smoking ban covers only Monroe County-owned beaches and parks, including Higgs Beach in Key West, the 21-acre oceanfront Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, Rowell’s Waterfront Park in Key Largo and the small, secluded Boca Chica Beach on Geiger Key in the Lower Keys.

Here are several hot spots where lighting up could cost you:

Key West

  • Higgs Beach, 1040 Atlantic Blvd.

  • Key West Pines Park, next to Fort East Martello, 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd.

  • Bernstein Park, the newly renovated park at the corner of 5th Street and 5th Avenue on Stock Island.

Key Largo

  • Murray E. Nelson Government Center Park, 102050 Overseas Highway.

Tavernier

  • Old Settlers Park, an oceanfront park with no water access, at mile marker 92.5, oceanside.

All Monroe County-owned parks and beaches are listed www.monroecounty-fl.gov/parks.

Will they really enforce this smoking ban?

The county has no plans to send deputies to sniff out cigarette and pipe smokers at its beaches and parks.

Anyone caught lighting up in violation of the ordinance could face a fine up to $100 for the first time and up to $500 for each subsequent violation.

“It’s like any other of our ordinances,” County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron said. “We’re not going to have a code person on the beach patrolling it. But we can put a sign out that says ‘No smoking.’ Most people will go ahead and follow that rule.”

If someone goes ahead and lights up a cigarette, someone may tell them of the ban. If that doesn’t work, they could call authorities, Coldiron said.