Banning our ban? – Senator targets Key West’s sunscreen ban - A person with a sunset in the background - Summer

A North Florida senator has filed a bill that, if passed, would nullify Key West’s ban on the sale of certain sunscreens that some say are harmful to the coral reef.

Key West officials voted earlier this year to ban, within the city limits, the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are also the chemicals that dermatologists say make the most effective sunscreen. 

Officials in Key West agreed to hold off implementing the ban until January 2021. Commissioner Greg Davila had opposed the ban, fearing unintended consequences, a statewide challenge and an act that would prevent local residents, who don’t go to the coral reef every day, from buying the most effective sunscreen for outdoor work.

But earlier this week, Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) filed Senate Bill 172 that would eliminate a city’s authority to regulate over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics, including all sunscreens. 

Bradley’s bill already has a companion bill in the Florida House and on Monday was approved by the Senate’s Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee.

“The city of Key West has adopted this ordinance with the stated reasoning of protecting the degradation of the coral reef,” Bradley told the committee. “The scientific community does not support this conclusion. From a safety standpoint for our citizens, we need to encourage them to use sunscreen, not discourage it. This is a strong message that Florida encourages sunscreen use to prevent melanoma. I think it’s the exact wrong thing that Key West did.”

The same Florida Senate committee heard from Key West lobbyist Jason Unger as well as Deborah Foote from the Sierra Club, both of whom called for senators to oppose Bradley’s proposal, but Senate Bill 172 passed the committee and will face a vote by the full Senate when the Legislature convenes in January.

Much of the statewide discussion is what Davila predicted back in February during the local sunscreen debate.

“My problem is with the practicality of the law we’re trying to pass,” Davila said in February. “It’s hard to ban something on a municipal level. I wish it were a statewide ban. Plus, if there were going to be a legal challenge to this ban, I’d rather let Hawaii deal with the legal expense of defending it. There is still scientific ambiguity and I can’t support the ordinance as drafted. Frankly, I wish the state would take it up.”

But given Bradley’s position, the state may not be taking it in the desired direction.

Key West city commissioners were scheduled to meet for a regular meeting Wednesday evening, after the Keys Weekly press deadline, so it was unknown whether the sunscreen ban was mentioned during that meeting. Check KeysWeekly.com for City Commission updates.

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