Joe Gruters’ beach smoking bill ready for Senate floor
Great outdoors: Florida’s Clean Indoor Air Act goes outside with Joe Gruters’ beach smoking bill.

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'This bill is about freedom.'

Could Florida beaches soon become cigarette butt-free?

The Senate Rules Committee Tuesday advanced legislation (SB 224) that would give counties and cities the power to regulate smoking in public parks. The bill now moves forward for consideration by the full Senate.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, said in addition to restoring this power to local governments, allowing beaches to prohibit smoking would be a boon to tourism.

He noted many localities, including his home county of Sarasota, attempted in the past to enact local rules. But a lawsuit by the ACLU resulted in a judge in 2017 tossing out all local bans on smoking on Florida beaches.

Gruters said snuffing out smoking could be a boon for many beach economies. He noted that ranking sites award points to beaches that bar smoking. Most notably, Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman’s Dr. Beach ranking, which looks at the health of sands, takes notice when beaches ban cigarettes.

“Those rankings help communities when we land in the Top 10,” Gruters said.

The legislation this year has been amended so that it does not cover cigars, except those with plastic tips. While environmental groups support a complete ban of tobacco products, Gruters agreed to the change, he said, because the greatest scourge to shores is the plastic cigarette butts left as litter.

Gruters made clear he originally sought the ability for a full ban, which would do more to counter the risk of second-hand smoke. But in outdoor settings, the plague of the litter presents the greatest environmental threat.

“A lot of people like cigars, pipe smoking, marijuana, even in their vape pens. That is allowed,” Gruters said. “It isn’t as far as I’d like to go.”

An amendment to the legislation opened the door to tobacco products that did not produce litter. Sen. Travis Hutson, a Palm Coast Republican, proposed an amendment — passed in the committee — requiring a notice appearing with “No Smoking” signs at parks and beaches with a QR code linking to a list of exceptions to the rule.

But critics of the legislation said restricting cigarettes goes too far.

Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, a Pinellas Republican, said the bill infringes on freedom. He also said the carve-outs for cigars made it ineffective at stopping smoking.

He described someone showing up at a beach to watch a sunset, but no longer being able to smoke. “Somehow that’s not going to be allowed in the state of Florida in certain jurisdictions,” he said. “Entire 200-acre parks will be off-limits.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, raised a different concern. She considered the ban to be discriminatory, especially after amendments ensured the bill would focus on cigarette smokers.

“This bill is discriminatory for high-brow folks,” she said.

Gruters disagreed on all counts.

“This bill is all about freedom,” he said. “It’s about freedom for tourists and individuals and giving the freedom of not having to put your hands in sand and pull out the ugly cigarette butts everyone sees in the sand.”

Companion legislation in the House (HB 105) is sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican. It has been passed by two committees and awaits a vote by the House Health & Human Services Committee.

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]


4 comments

  • politics

    February 15, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    I rather watch smoking bill in a comedy and the title .d.c upside down

  • Matthew Lusk

    February 15, 2022 at 4:06 pm

    What a pathetic over-reach. Littering cigarette butts are already illegal. Next Joe will be banning women over 150 lbs to meet the best tourist guidelines. Sorry ladies, no whale cracks swallowing swimsuits allowed.
    And what about those stretched and faded stray cat tattoos from the eighties. Sorry boomers, you’re not wanted in public. Does the bill address Skoal spitters? Micro managing trivial human behavior is antithetical to American Freedom.

  • Matthew Lusk

    February 15, 2022 at 4:08 pm

    If you want more beach tourism try increasing the number of parking spaces.

  • Tom P.

    February 16, 2022 at 9:01 am

    I’m more concerned about people drinking alcohol on the beach and then driving home . . . same thing for sporting events, both college level and pro stadiums.

Comments are closed.


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