TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) –- Lighting up on Georgia’s Tybee Beach will soon come with a cost.
The Tybee Island City Council voted Thursday night to ban smoking and vaping across the beach.
A pilot program that expires at the end of May banned smoking in the area around the pier. The council started considering a beach-wide ban in March.
Volunteers with Fight Dirty Tybee have been pushing for the ban for nearly seven years.
“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 about 100,000 cigarette butts on the beach each year, making it the largest source of litter.
Residents had a chance to weigh in on the issue, and 63% said they supported the ban.
“We’re one of the few beaches on the East Coast that you could smoke on,” City Manager Shawn Gillen said. “This is not unusual, it shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Last year, Gillen said 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 said 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.”
Officers will begin enforcing the ban on June 1. But there will be a three-week grace period during which violators will receive only a warning. After that, it will be a $300 fine for anyone 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.