Siesta Beach meets criteria for national healthy beach campaign

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Rachel Brown Hackney

Florida International University professor Stephen P. Leatherman — known worldwide as “Dr. Beach” for his annual lists of the best U.S. beaches — has reactivated his National Healthy Beaches Campaign, Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), announced to members during their regular meeting on March 5.

As its website explains, the campaign “Is the first scientifically-based beach certification program administered by a professional group of coastal experts.” The National Healthy Beaches Campaign (NHBC) “is dedicated to creating a balance between the recreational use of our nation’s beaches and maintaining the environmental quality and safety of these prized resources.”

In a Feb. 29 email to Luckner, which she shared with SNL, Leatherman explained that his focus with the new campaign is “on promoting no-smoking beaches in Florida. Cigarette butts are the number one type of litter on beaches, and our beautiful Florida beaches are not ashtrays.”

In a March 10, 2019 guest column in the Tallahassee Democrat, Leatherman wrote, “Some cities, including Miami Beach, rely on sweepers to clean [their] shorelines every morning. But cigarette butts often fall through their screens. It’s a problem for people, sea turtles and any other living things on the beach. The chemicals and toxic heavy metals in cigarette butts degrade so slowly they hang around for up to 15 years.

To make things worse, these butts sometimes end up in the mouths of our children or animals.”

He added, “Beachgoers want clean water and sand. In fact, those are the two most important factors in my annual rating of America’s Best Beaches. I actually give extra credit to beaches that don’t allow smoking.”

In his Feb. 29 email to Luckner, Leatherman pointed out that each beach community that desires “to be smokeless and will promote this cause with the State Legislature in order to promote beach cleanliness and public health will be designated as an Environmentally Friendly Beach.”

Leatherman further noted that he releases his Top 10 Beaches List each Memorial Day weekend. (He has included Siesta Key twice in the No. 1 spot.) His announcements garner more than 600 million media impressions, he added, referring to the number of people who see articles or TV news segments about them, for examples. “The no-smoking campaign and Environmentally Friendly Beach designation will be promoted on the Press Release with all beaches listed on my website,” Leatherman wrote Luckner.

“Florida is known as the Sunshine State but also boasts of the largest number of top-quality swimming beaches in the nation with 825 miles of sandy beaches,” Leatherman added. “Most of the 100 million visitors to Florida each year visit a beach while in the State, and we need to show them that we are working to maintain the environmental quality of our most important recreational resource.”

Siesta Key is one of 13 Florida beaches on the NHBC list, Leatherman’s website notes. It joins three others in Sarasota County: Lido, Caspersen Beach near Venice, and Venice Beach.

Only 14 states have beaches that have been recognized by the revived campaign, the webpage shows. Florida has the largest number, followed by Hawaii, with 12.

State beach smoking prohibition effort continues

During remarks to the SKA audience in December 2016, Leatherman stressed his disdain for people who leave cigarette butts on beaches. “To me, one of the most disgusting things to do” is to sit down on a beach, he said, and put his hands into the sand, only to touch a cigarette butt. Worse, he added, is watching a small child whose parents’ attention has been diverted pick up butts and eat them, as children “eat everything.”

Prior to a Sarasota County judge’s ruling in December 2012, in a case involving the City of Sarasota, the County Commission had implemented a no smoking policy on county beaches. The judge’s ruling referenced a July 21, 2011 opinion issued by the Florida Attorney General’s Office in a case involving the St. Johns River Water Management District. That opinion said, “The Regulation of smoking is preempted to the state pursuant to [the Clean Indoor Air Act], and the … District may not adopt a policy prohibiting smoking or tobacco use that is broader than the terms of [that statute].”

Leatherman first made Siesta Key No. 1 in the United States in 2011, before the judge rendered her decision. In recent years, legislative initiatives to reverse the state law failed.

On March 5, though, SKA President Luckner reminded members of the nonprofit about bills filed this year to allow local governments the right to prohibit smoking in public parks, such as Siesta Public Beach.

State Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota introduced one of the bills. However, a different version — Senate Bill (SB) 630 — ended up winning final approval on the required third reading, on March 5, with 39 “Yeas” and only one “Nay,” that bill’s webpage notes.

Introduced by Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne, that bill allows municipalities and counties to

impose restrictions on smoking “within the boundaries of any public parks they own …” It would take effect on July 1.

Gruters’ bill — SB 670 — would have prohibited smoking within the boundaries of state parks, as well. It last saw action on Jan. 14, when it was read for the first time in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, its webpage says. Mayfield had been a co-introducer of that bill.

On March 5, the webpage for Mayfield’s bill — SB 630 — also noted that it was “in messages” for the Florida House, meaning it was en route to that chamber for action.

The legislative session was scheduled to end on March 13. As of the deadline for this issue of Siesta Sand, no action on the bill had been taken in the Florida House.

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