Photo of mama bird feeding chick a cigarette butt reignites idea for beach smoking ban

Despite an effort from State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, to prohibit the use of tobacco on public beaches, the Florida Legislature never took up the bill during the 2019 legislative session.

A picture from a Largo photographer visiting St. Beach Beach of a black skimmer seabird feeding a cigarette butt to its chick may help environmental groups such as ManaSota-88 continue the fight.

The Legislature may have taken notice of Sarasota’s attempt to ban smoking at the beach in 2007, only to see the ordinance deemed unconstitutional and overturned in 2013.

In a statement released by ManaSota-88, “Unfortunately, the 2019 Legislature did not act on the smoking ban and the bill died in the Environment and Natural Resources committee. State government does have a role in addressing public health hazard.”

The organization’s newsletter goes on to say, “Cigarette smokers should not be allowed to use our public beaches as an ashtray. ManaSota-88 fully supports local and state efforts to reduce the irresponsible disposal of cigarette butts on public beaches.”

Cigarette butts are made up of a type of plastic that isn’t biodegradable, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration.

“Fish, birds and other animals can mistake small pieces of plastic like cigarette butts for food. Eating them could cause the animal to choke or starve to death because the plastic isn’t digested, filling up their stomachs,” the agency reports.

Karen Catbird’s images, originally sent to WFLA, of the baby skimmer being fed the cigarette butt by its mother is telling evidence of how wildlife can confuse man-made products for food.

She says in her Facebook post of the image, “It’s time we cleaned up our beaches and stopped treating them like one giant ashtray.”

NBC News reported in 2015 that cigarette butts have overtaken plastic straws as the worst contaminate of the world’s oceans. There are about 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes produced annually and it is estimated that two-thirds of them are thrown away irresponsibly.