Could cigarette butts become a thing of the past on Florida beaches?
A bill filed by state Sen. Joe Gruters would outlaw smoking on all Florida beaches. But the ACLU already has voiced concerns about how the law will be enforced.
The legislation (SB 218) would penalize smokers with a $25 fine and up to 10 hours of community service if they light up on a public beach.
Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, said it makes sense in Florida’s tourism-based economy to keep sands pristine: “It’s for the enjoyment of everybody attending our beaches so they don’t have to sit next to cigarette butts.”
The lawmaker noted Stephen Leatherman, who issues rankings on America’s Best Beaches each year, includes smoking bans in his criteria.
Leatherman is Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. Better known as Dr. Beach, he “gives bonus points to beaches that have a ‘no smoking’ policy,” Gruters said.
The rankings provide major publicity and economic benefits to those beaches atop his listings each year. The 2018 rankings include just one Florida beach, Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin.
A smoking ban at public beaches and parks in New Jersey goes into effect later this month, though “local communities can opt out and designate small smoking sections,” the AP reported.
But bans on beach smoking in Florida ran into legal trouble in the past.
Sarasota County put a local ban in place in its public parks, including beaches, for five years. But that law got tossed by a judge in 2017, as reported by ABC Action News. That decision declared unconstitutional any local bans on smoking on public beaches in Florida.
Michael Barfield, board president for the ACLU of Florida, worked as a paralegal on that case. He said the issue first gained attention because of how police enforced the rule.
“Even a cursory review found it was mostly the homeless being targeted,” Barfield said.
Ultimately, the ban got tossed on pre-emption grounds, that local jurisdictions couldn’t prohibit something state law maintained was legal, or at least didn’t say was illegal.
Statewide bans have previously faced political hurdles, but with the waning political influence of Big Tobacco, Barfield figures Gruters’ bill boasts a solid chance of passage.
He said the ACLU doesn’t have a problem with no-smoking rules: “I don’t consider smoking a cigarette to be a civil liberty.”
Barfield also said he talked with Gruters about the legislation, and acknowledges if the bill becomes law, that will do away with the pre-emption rule that blocked the Sarasota ban. But he still fears the rule will be used to selectively punish vagrants.
Gruters said he doesn’t want the law used to target particular groups. And the bill still allows for designated smoking areas, such as in pavilions. The Senator just wants cigarettes kept off the beach sand itself.
“My goal with all laws is for everybody to be held to the same standard,” he said. “This is just a matter of cleaning up the beaches.”
Last updated on January 2, 2019