Measure to block local sunscreen bans headed to governor's desk

Florida lawmakers are sending to Gov. Ron DeSantis a measure intended to block Key West and any other local governments from imposing bans on certain types of sunscreen.

The House voted 68-47 on Tuesday to pass the measure (SB 172), which would prohibit local governments from regulating drugs and cosmetics sold over the counter.

The bill, fast-tracked through the Senate in January, was crafted in response to plans by Key West to start enforcing next January a ban on the sale of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Critics of the legislation decried the threat to local government home-rule and the need to maintain endangered coral reefs. Proponents disputed studies that found the targeted chemicals negatively impact coral reefs and pointed to the threat of skin cancer in Florida.

House bill sponsor Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers Beach, described his proposal as a “cancer prevention” measure.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is a dermatologist, outlined the problems he saw with studies that have linked the chemicals to degradation of reefs.

 “If we don’t have evidence that is good, that is verified, we cannot allow these communities to ban sunscreens,” Massullo said. “We have plenty of empirical evidence that sunscreens are very, very important to our society, that they save lives. By banning them, we’ll be threatening lives.”

Massullo also noted the “reef safe” sunscreens being marketed are often zinc-based. He said such sunscreens, while better on the face, are thick, stain and are difficult to apply on the entire body.

But Rep. Javier Fernandez, D-South Miami, called the legislation a “gross overreaction to what has been a measured and reasonable limitation passed by the city of Key West.”

Fernandez rejected Roach’s characterization this week of studies used by Key West on Monday as “junk science.”

“The very consumer research reports that Rep. Roach cited in his response to questions yesterday indicates that more than 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash up on coral reefs across the globe each year,” Fernandez said. “These are concentrated clusters at popular dive and snorkeling locations like our national marine sanctuaries.”

Critics of the bill hope DeSantis will show support for local government home-rule, noting that last year he vetoed a proposal that would have prevented local regulation of plastic straws and this year expressed questions regarding a proposed pre-emption of local regulation of short-time vacation rental properties.

DeSantis has not publicly made a statement on the sunscreen bill, and his office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the proposal.

Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven, pointed to home rule as he joined a number of Democrats in arguing against the bill.

“With the federal and state governments spending resources to protect the coral reefs, it is counterintuitive that today we’re voting to block local governments from protecting the same coral reefs,” Killebrew added.

Roach said the proposal should draw the governor’s support as DeSantis found no compelling state interest in preventing local regulation of plastic straws.

“That is not the case here,” Roach said. “There is absolutely  a compelling state interest in protecting the health and safety of our citizens in allowing them to choose to purchase use and apply what three decades of research has told us is the best and most effective cancer prevention on the market.”

Proponents of the sunscreen bill have also used a report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the Legislature’s research arm.

The agency known as OPPAGA concluded oxybenzone and octinoxate have negative effects on coral reefs and marine life when exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.”

The agency, which compiled research about the effects of the chemicals, said the substances may also be found in seawater from “wastewater effluent, leaching from plastics, and leaching from hull paints on ships.”

The Florida League of Cities asked lawmakers to hold off on passing the bill until more research could be conducted on the impact of the chemicals on coral reefs.

The bill drew support from Johnson & Johnson, which makes sunscreens with oxybenzone, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.