‘Dr. Beach’ nominated for World Health Organization World No Tobacco Day Award

Stephen Leatherman credited with work that facilitated passage of 2022 state law that allows local governments to prohibit cigarette smoking on beaches

Stephen P. Leatherman — known internationally as “Dr. Beach” for his annual recognition of the Top 10 U.S. Beaches — has been nominated for the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day Award, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

The Tobacco Free Partnership of Broward County recently partnered with the Tobacco-Free Workgroup of Miami-Dade to put up Leatherman’s name for the World Health Organization (WHO) honor.

Each year on May 31, a news release explains, the WHO celebrates World No Tobacco Day, “an annual campaign to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure. As part of the campaign, WHO recognizes individuals and groups that have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the policies and measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” the release points out.

On its website about the program, the WHO says, “This yearly celebration informs the public on the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco companies, what WHO is doing to fight the tobacco epidemic, and what people around the world can do to claim their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations.”

The WHO adds, “The Member States of the World Health Organization created World No Tobacco Day in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes. In 1987, the World Health Assembly passed Resolution WHA40.38, calling for 7 April 1988 to be a “a world no-smoking day.”

Leatherman is a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami.

In late 2021 and 2022, Leatherman collaborated with state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, to achieve passage of a bill that allows local governments in Florida to ban cigarette smoking on public beaches and in public parks. The Sarasota City Commission took steps shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill late last spring to implement such bans at its facilities.

“Dr. Beach has focused on cigarette litter and its environmental and health impacts, not only on humans but also on pets, birds, and fish,” Dr. Richard J. Thurer, chair of the Tobacco-Free Workgroup of Miami-Dade, wrote in support of Leatherman’s nomination for the WHO award.

In 2003, the news release explains, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibited communities from implementing smoke-free rules for their beaches. However, the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County continued to ban smoking on their beaches until a 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge in Sarasota, in 2012, made it clear that the state law pre-empted those local regulations.

State Sen. Gruters had tried for several years to overturn the pre-emption before he achieved success in the 2022 legislative session.

“Dr. Beach’s efforts and documentation of the impacts of cigarette smoking was a major factor in getting the Florida State Legislature to pass the bill repealing the state pre-emption on local jurisdictions,” Dr. Thurer added in the release.

Twice, Leatherman has named Siesta Key Beach No. 1 on his annual Top 10 lists; the first recognition came in 2011. He awards extra points to beaches if people are not allowed to smoke on them. He told Siesta Key Association members in December 2016 how much he detests putting his hands into the sand on a shoreline and coming up with butts.

He also has conducted a National Healthy Beaches Campaign over the years in an effort to rid beaches of cigarettes. In his most recent effort, dating to 2020, he pointed out on the campaign’s website, “Beaches are America’s favorite playgrounds, with over 200 million people flocking to U.S. Beaches for fun and sun annually. A trip to the beach restores the mind, body and soul of the beachgoer.”

He then noted, “A beachgoer’s primary focus is finding clean, safe, healthy beaches to play and relax on. Sometimes, unfortunately, visitors arrive at a beach to find it dirty, overcrowded, severely eroded, or the water polluted.”

Leatherman also has been a guest of, and informal consultant to, the nonprofit Siesta Key Association (SKA) as it has worked on environmental issues in the past.

“Over the last three decades, no one has focused more attention to the impacts of tobacco litter and secondhand smoke on our beaches,” Dr. Barry Hummel, chair of the Tobacco Free Partnership of

Broward County, added of Leatherman in the news release this week. “His leadership on this issue will protect the citizens and visitors of Florida in profound ways for years to come.”

For more information about Leatherman, visit https://www.drbeach.org.