Tybee City Council on Thursday passed an ordinance to prohibit smoking on the island’s beaches beginning June 1.

The measure passed by a 4-3 vote, as expected. More than half a dozen in the audience who wore white t-shirts identifying each as a “Tybee clean beach volunteer” cheered at the passage. However, as Mayor Shirley Sessions cast her tie-breaking vote, another man seated in the front row shouted expletives and stormed out of the meeting.

Cigarette butts are the most common item littered on beaches not just on Tybee, but all over, the Ocean Conservancy reports. Their filters are typically plastic and pose a threat to birds and sea life that mistake them for food. At the first reading of the ordinance in April, members of the anti-litter group Fight Dirty Tybee demonstrated the extent of the problem with 5-gallon buckets full of cigarette butts they collected from beach sweeps.

Several Charleston-area beaches have banned smoking but Tybee is the first in Georgia to do so.

Tybee won’t issue fines at first, at the suggestion of City Council Member Monty Parks.

“I’d like to amend any motion made to be that this would be effective June 1, to allow staff and the city time to get signage together,” he said. “And that for the first three weeks, we issue warnings, instead of coming down like thunder.”

The ordinance doesn’t specify a fine, but Tybee’s web site indicates all beach related fines are $300, including smoking or vaping in the current no-smoking area on the beach between 14th and 16th streets.

Included in the ban are e-cigarettes.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to smoke, vape or use tobacco or related products on
any beach on Tybee Island,” the ordinance reads. “This prohibition on smoking, vaping or using tobacco or related products extends into the ocean and includes all crosswalks to the beach as well as the pier.”

With litter from cigarette butts the main concern with beach smoking, Council Member Barry Brown asked why vaping was included.

Councilman Brian West explained that the vaping devices have small parts including caps.

“They have little battery packs,” West said. “The stick itself can be left behind; they can forget they had it,” he said. “So there are loads of little pieces of plastic and I understanding Clean Beach picks up a lot of those as well.”

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