TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Lighting up on Tybee Beach will soon come with a cost.
On Thursday night, Tybee Island City Council voted to ban smoking and vaping across the beach.
A pilot program that expires this month banned smoking in the area around the pier. Back in March, council started considering a beach-wide ban.
Volunteers with Fight Dirty Tybee have been pushing for the ban for nearly seven years now.
“It can be a playground, but it doesn’t have to be a junkyard,” founder Tim Arnold said. “There’s just so much litter on that beach and it’s time to start turning that around and fostering a more responsible beachgoer, which means don’t leave your cigarette butts on the beach. Now, you can’t.”
Arnold said Fight Dirty Tybee volunteers pick up around 100,000 cigarette butts off the beach each year, making it the largest source of litter.
Residents had a chance to weigh in on the issue, where 63% said they supported the ban.
“We’re one of the few beaches on the East Coast that you could smoke on,” said city manager Shawn Gillen. “This is not unusual, it shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Gillen said last year, more than 6.5 million people visited the island. He hopes the new rules will help contain the growing pile of litter that is often left behind.
“If you take just a small percentage of those people that decide to discard something like that on the beach, it’s tens of thousands of items on the beach,” he said. “The sheer volume of this is astronomical.”
But the ban is not welcome news for all beachgoers. Three council members voted against it, arguing people have a right to smoke on the sand if they choose.
“I really think this is a win for everybody,” Arnold said. “There’s a few folks that are upset, naturally. They think something’s been taken away but actually something’s been given to everybody, which is a clean and safe beach.”
Volunteers say it’s ultimately about making Tybee Island more family-friendly.
“There’s a lot of comments that people have made over the years that it’s not a safe place for their kids; they don’t like the smoke,” Arnold said. “I’ve heard parents say their kids feet have been burned on lit cigarettes.”
Starting June 1, officers will begin enforcing the ban. But there will be a three week grace period where violators will just be given a warning. After that, you’ll face a $300 fine if you’re caught smoking or vaping on the beach.
Officials said there will be designated smoking areas in the parking lot, but the prohibited zone officially starts at the crossovers. Surveillance cameras will also help officers spot smokers.