State Sen. Rob Bradley remembers the disgust he felt a few years ago when he took his three children to a public playground, only to have them encounter secondhand smoke and deal with cigarette butts littering the ground.
His children are older now, but he still remembers that experience, and in the last session of the Florida Legislature, he attempted to pass a bill that would allow cities and towns to restrict smoking at beaches, playgrounds, public parks and recreation areas to protect residents from outdoor secondhand smoke.
His bill appeared to be headed for passage in the Senate, but he said it was “a non-starter in the House” and it died in a Senate committee.
He heard complaints that his bill would make it illegal to enjoy a cigar on the beach.
“Some individuals viewed it as an encroachment of individual rights,” Bradley said.
Florida lags behind other states when it comes to snuffing out tobacco use in public places. According to an Aug. 8 Associated Press report, during the last five years, the number of parks and public recreation areas with tobacco bans has reached 2,600 nationwide. As Florida law now stands, it is perfectly OK to light up at parks, playgrounds and beaches, whether children are around or not.
“There is no risk-free level of contact with secondhand smoke, even brief exposure can be harmful to health,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, at least 69 of which are known carcinogens.
Sunil Joshi, an allergist with Family Allergy & Asthma Consultants in Jacksonville, said there are real dangers of secondhand smoke, indoors or outdoors. Of special concern are the effects on children whose lungs are still developing, and adults with heart and lung problems.
“Should we allow smoking in public places? It would probably be healthier for our society if people outdoors were not smoking,” he said.
According to the CDC, secondhand smoke around children causes more frequent and more severe asthma attacks, respiratory problems, infections and a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome. For children aged 18 months or younger, secondhand smoke exposure is responsible for an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year.
Among adults who do not smoke, being exposed to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart attack. Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of heart disease by 25 to 30 percent, according to the CDC, which estimates that secondhand smoke causes 46,000 heart-disease deaths and 3,400 lung-cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers.
“There can be serious consequences,” Joshi said.
A team of Stanford University researchers conducted a study in 2007 of secondhand tobacco smoke at sidewalk cafés and other outdoor settings, discovering some startling results.
“Our findings show that a person sitting or standing next to a person outdoors can breathe in wisps of smoke that are many times more concentrated than normal background air pollution levels,” said Neil Klepeis, a consulting assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and lead author of the study. He added that that amount could have 50 times more toxic material than the surrounding unpolluted air.
“Walking quickly by a group of smokers is likely to involve only seconds’ worth of exposure. We measured short transient exposures that could exceed 1,000 micrograms per meter cubed,” Klepeis wrote in an email, noting that the EPA 24-hour standard for particle exposure is only 35 micrograms per meter cubed.
The researchers used a portable electronic monitor to make precise measurements of toxic airborne material emitted from cigarettes at 10 sites near the Stanford campus.
Klepeis said that the city of Santa Monica, Calif., has banned smoking from parks, beaches, ATM machine areas, theater lines and open-air restaurants.
Removing secondhand smoke from a playground, park or a beach in Florida is not as simple as passing a city or county ordinance, however. It is against the law for municipalities to do so. Only the state can regulate smoking because of preemption by Florida law.
Last December, a judge struck down Sarasota County’s five-year-old law prohibiting smoking at parks, youth sports fields, public libraries and beaches. She ruled that local governments are not permitted to ban outdoor smoking.
A 1985 law overturned the state’s existing local laws, and no community has been able to adopt a smoke-free law in 25 years.
In 2003, Florida approved a law for smoke-free restaurants and workplaces, but it still permits smoking in bars, music venues and other hospitality workplaces where less than 10 percent of gross revenue is from the sale of food.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in June allowing school districts to designate their properties as tobacco-free.
Sen. Bradley expects to try to pass another outdoor smoking ban in next year’s session, but says he will probably narrow his focus.
“I am not sure at this time what form it’s going to take to make sure we can pass it in the House,” said Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican.
“My sense is to craft a bill that will give the local government the power to regulate smoking at playgrounds,” he said.
Another issue resulting from outdoor smoking is rampant littering of cigarette butts. Drive on almost any road in Florida, and you can see thousands of them lining the gutters and the pavement at every stoplight — and you can grab handfuls in the sand at the beach.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, more than one million cigarette butts were picked up along U.S. beaches in just one day, as part of the 2009 International Coastal Cleanup.
Keep Jacksonville Beautiful participates in the coastal cleanup but doesn’t keep track of cigarettes collected at the beach. It has put out ashtrays around town in an attempt to keep cigarette litter off the streets, sidewalks and parks.
Most of the major sports stadiums and arenas in Florida ban smoking, except in designated areas. That holds true at EverBank Field and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. There are no restrictions preventing someone from lighting up in a city park during a kids’ Little League game or soccer match, however, local athletic associations, including the YMCA and Orange Park Athletic Association, can legally ban smoking on their premises.
In Florida, more than 20 colleges and universities, including the University of Florida and University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Florida State University and Edward Waters College, have enacted campus-wide smoking bans. Flagler College has banned smoking in campus buildings; Jacksonville University does not have a campus-wide smoking ban and instead offers designated outdoor campus areas for smoking.
Edward Ariza and Stephen P. Leatherman, who argued in favor of a ban on beach tobacco use, addressed the issue of outdoor smoking at beaches in the January 2012 edition of the Journal of Coastal Research at Florida International University.
“Beaches are the most visited natural areas in the United States, and beachgoers want clean sand and clean water. If a beach is polluted with cigarette butts, beachgoers may look for other, cleaner beaches to go to. Establishing a smoking ban on beaches will prove environmental, aesthetic, economic and health benefits,” they wrote.
Jan Johnson, Florida state coordinator of the Citizens Freedom Alliance, The Smoker’s Clubs, wrote in an email, “I think outdoor smoking bans are the height of insanity.”
“At worst, it is an attempt by society to demonize smoking and make it easier for society to shun them,” Johnson said.
“I just wish society would tell smokers the truth, the truth being that the people in public health would be much happier if smokers and smoking did not exist,” Johnson said.
Public health officials readily concede they are trying to eliminate smoking because of the effects on public health, but agree that smoking is still legal and to do so is an individual choice.