Efforts to stop smoking on some of Florida’s top beaches have been snuffed out again.
Legislation empowering local governments to limit smoking in publicly owned outdoor spaces died after the Senate Rules Committee did not hear it. Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, has filed some iteration of the bill (SB 334) for years.
Gruters acknowledged the bill this year is “dead.” It did clear two committees in the Senate, but a companion bill (HB 239), sponsored by Rep. Thad Altman, an Indialantic Republican, only made it through one committee.
The matter has been of particular significance within Gruters’ coastal district, which includes Siesta Key, one of Florida’s top beaches.
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.
Sarasota County once banned smoking on beaches, but a 2013 court ruling made it clear that state law governs smoking when it comes to outdoor public spaces. That ended up impacting beaches across the state of Florida.
This year’s bills would have changed the law and allowed local governments the authority to decide whether to allow smoking.
“It doesn’t mean they will prohibit smoking, but it will give them the opportunity at least to address those conflicts,” Altman said in committee.
But the bill has routinely drawn concern from senators representing jurisdictions with a heavy cigar industry presence. Since the bill also impacted smoking at state parks, some also questioned if the bill will punish campers who can breathe in smoke from a campfire but receive a citation for lighting a cigarette.
In that sense, the bill served as a testament to the still-burning influence of tobacco in Tallahassee.