If you enjoy the freedom to light up at a park or beach — or if you gag at the stench of the second-hand smoke — change could be coming.
Even though signs ban smoking at some of those places already, they're not even worth the metal they're printed on. Florida law prohibits local government from implementing smoking restrictions, making the signs nothing more than suggestions that aren't legally enforceable.
Hager's proposed law would give that power to local governments, an idea that drew mixed reviews Monday at
Beachgoer Joel Bongini, of
James Gulluscio, a snowbird who spends winters in Fort Lauderdale and summers in Massachusetts, said he used to smoke at the beach. Now he'd like to see a ban. "Being a reformed smoker, I think it's a great idea. I don't care to smell someone else's smoke. Invariably it carries."
But smoker A.J. Staps, of Oakland Park, doesn't like the idea of a smoking ban at the beach.
"It would be ridiculous b.s.," Staps said. "I agree [with a smoking ban] in enclosed spaces, but in open air, you don't want to restrict people from living their lives."
The legislation is generating even stronger opposition from people whose livelihoods depend on smoking.
"We're talking about a smoking ban outside, and that's Armageddon," Charlie Torano, of Boca Raton, the fourth generation in his family's business of importing and distributing handmade cigars. "If you can't smoke outside, I think we are an industry that [is] one step away from being banned."
Abe Dababneh, of Wellington, who owns 11 cigar stores including nine in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said the proposal is a terrible government intrusion into individual liberty. "Next thing you know it's in your backyard," he said.
And he said it shows government's priorities are all wrong. "There are more important things our representatives can be working on — like creating jobs."
But Caitlyn Johnston, of Jupiter, said smoking and second-hand smoke have "devastating" health consequences. "I'm not telling the smokers that they can't smoke. We want them to do it somewhere else, where other people and children aren't affected."
Beyond health, she said, it's an environmental issue. During two beach cleanups of about two hours last year, she picked up only smoking-related trash, mainly cigarette butts. She averaged three-and-a-half pounds of trash.
Johnston, 17, started work on the issue after her grandfather's death from lung cancer. She initially wanted a state-imposed ban on smoking at beaches and parks. After she began working with Janiece Davis, who handles tobacco issues at the Palm Beach County Health Department, she tempered her goal, asking instead for authority for municipal and county governments to ban smoking at their parks and beaches.
"You have big dreams and you sort of realize maybe I should bring this down a little," she said.
She pitched her idea to several legislators before finding an enthusiastic partner in Hager. In 2011, he won passage of legislation that gave school boards authority to ban anyone from smoking anywhere on their property. The
Hager, sponsor of the legislation, was out of town and wasn't present to hear the support or the complaints. "The verdict is in on second-hand smoke, and the verdict is unequivocal. The verdict is clear: Second-hand smoke kills people," he said in a telephone interview.
Prospects for the legislation, House Bill 439, are unclear. Several of Hager's Democratic colleagues said Monday they didn't have a position on the proposal.
But Hager is in the majority party, so that gives anything he sponsors a better shot with the Republican leaders who control what gets voted on in Tallahassee. "I'm confident that the leadership will move this bill forward," he said.
Should cities and counties be allowed to ban smoking at parks and beaches? Take our online poll at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.