Cigarette sculptures highlight Joe Gruters’ push to snuff out beach smoking

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The Ocean Conservancy said cigarettes have been the most littered item on Florida beaches for 31 years.

Sen. Joe Gruters for years has fought against the unsightly cigarette butts littering Florida’s beaches. Now, a work of art could drive that message home.

Gruters joined the Ocean Conservancy for a press conference on Siesta Beach to discuss his latest legislative attempt to clean up the shore. Around the speakers stood the artwork of Sarasota sculptor Erin Ernst, depictions of oversized cigarette butts crumpled in the sand.

The art itself was made from tiny plastic fibers, another poorly recycled material posing a threat to Florida’s waters. The public presentation of the work serves to highlight the environmental challenge facing Florida’s tourist destinations.

Once again, Gruters has filed legislation (SB 224) that would allow cities and counties the right to regulate smoking in public beaches and parks. The legislation already cleared the Senate Community Affairs committee by unanimous vote. But he’s worked for years to pass some form of the bill since arriving in the Senate only to see it snuffed out before a vote on the floor.

“I’m optimistic this year,” Gruters said, noting momentum has been building since well before Session.

Frequently, he’s discussed the international acclaim and expert listings for Siesta Key, which on multiple occasions has topped the Dr. Beach rankings. But those rankings take into account whether beaches permit smoking.

“Dr. Beach walked on the beach last year and he’s all gung-ho about this,” Gruters said. “This is a winning issue on the environment and on the economy.”

Under Florida law, smoking is allowed on all beaches, and local governments cannot put local ordinances in place regarding their own parks, something made clear when courts tossed a Sarasota County restriction in 2013.

“I think it’s great for Sarasota County to be leading on this because we were the ones who went through that lawsuit,” Gruters said. “This can be the first step in returning that power to local governments.”

Gruters appeared with his three children at the acclaimed beach in Senate District 23.

There, the Ocean Conservancy noted that for 31 consecutive years, cigarette butts were the most common item found on Florida’s beaches during cleanups.

Gruters’ bill now awaits a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. A companion bill sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine (HB 105) is now in the House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee.

Sen. Joe Gruters speaks at a press conference with his kids about legislation letting counties ban beach smoking. Image via Gruters’ office.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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