Will butts soon be gone from Florida’s beaches?
Legislation allowing county governments to prohibit smoking on publicly owned beaches (SB 334) moved forward in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Sen. Joe Gruters, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation won’t issue a blanket ban, but would allow local governments to decide what works best in their own jurisdiction.
“It’s important for the environment,” the Sarasota Republican said. “The number one product found left at the beach over and over again is cigarette butts.”
Gruters noted that as it relates to his home Senate District 23, the county government previously prohibited smoking on the beaches, but a court ruling made clear such a decision right now falls under state jurisdiction exclusively.
The Sarasota economy relies heavily on beach tourism. Siesta Key has multiple times been ranked the best beach in America by Dr. Beach. That would happen with greater frequency, Gruters said, if smoking were banned, as Dr. Stephen Leatherman, the Florida International University professor behind the Dr. Beach rankings, gives points for prohibiting cigarettes.
Experts from the Surfrider Foundation supported the bill and presented data that cigarette butts are the top littered item on beaches nationwide, and that Florida sees the most butts discarded in the sand of any state.
But not everyone embraced the legislation. Tobacco retailers expressed concern over granting any regulatory power to local governments over smoking. Marvin Holzhauser, owner of Harbor Cigars, said the legislation would open the door to a patchwork of rules statewide on tobacco use.
“We are concerned about the direct impact on premium cigar retailers,” he said.
Some senators raised concerns that as written now, the legislation prohibits smoking in state parks as well. Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Longwood Republican, voted against the legislation expressing concern Floridians could end up allowed to sit by a campfire in a park but not to smoke a cigarette. And Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, while supporting the bill for now, said she’d like tighter language to ensure rules are limited to beaches.
Gruters noted that in the past he filed legislation to implement a full ban on beach smoking, but now seeks only to leave the decision in local hands. That would allow a cigar-loving community like Tampa make allowances for cigar bars, while a clean air-loving community like Sarasota could ban burning tobacco altogether on the beach.