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.
With a push from a Palm Beach County high school senior motivated by her grandfather's death from lung cancer, state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, is sponsoring legislation to allow county and municipal governments to ban outdoor smoking in parks and on beaches.
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 Fort Lauderdale beach.
Beachgoer Joel Bongini, of Wilton Manors, said subjecting people to smoke at the beach is "horrible, especially when people come to the beach and they sit next to you and blow [smoke] in your face." Even when the smoker is at a distance, he said the breeze carries the unpleasant, unhealthy odor a long way. His advice to smokers: "Do it at your own home."
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 American Cancer Society named him freshman legislator of the year.
The issue got a brief public airing Monday before the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation. The health department's Davis spoke in favor and 16 opponents were represented by Lindsay Heller, assistant manager of a cigar store in Boynton Beach.
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.
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