SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) -Year after year, cigarette butts continue to be the most common form of litter found at Florida beaches. Sarasota Senator Joe Gruters has been working to change that long-standing statistic.
Senator Gruters has once again filed a bill that would allow local government officials to ban smoking at public beaches and parks. He thinks in addition to helping the environment, keeping beaches smoke-free will boost the economy.
“Dr. Beach has said over and over again that beaches that prohibit smoking will be ranked higher and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t give Florida beaches the best possible chance to be the highest-ranked and get the highest rankings at the end of the day,” said Sen. Gruters.
Sarasota County banned smoking at public beaches several years ago, however, the ban was overturned in the court system back in 2013.
“For me and for the community of Sarasota which already tried to ban some of these cigarette butts, I think this legislation this year has the best opportunity that we have ever had to actually pass and get this across the finish line. This doesn’t mean that we are going to ban smoking on all beaches and parks throughout Florida. This will just give the power and return the ability to local governments and give them the chance to do what is best for their communities,” said the senator.
Officials with the Ocean Conservancy have backed Gruters’ efforts.
“In a single year when we clean up 200,000 cigarette butts from our beaches during our clean up… We need to do everything we can to keep the cigarette butts off the beach, out of the environment, out of the ocean and ensure that Florida’s clean and healthy beaches stay that way,” J.P Brooker with Ocean Conservancy said.
Not everyone is on board with the possibility of a smoking ban.
“There are enough restrictions,” said Garry Ciccone who is visiting Lido Beach from Pittsburg. “I think it is overreach, especially out in the open like this,” he continued.
Others have expressed concerns about the law infringing on individuals’ rights.
“We want freedom, but at the same time, we want quiet and peaceful enjoyment of families being able to go out there and go to the beach without putting their hands in the sand and picking up some of these cigarette butts,” Sen. Gruters said.
Gruters says the bill is not an outright ban. Local governments would have the ability to set up designated smoking zones if they so choose. The senator says it would be up to local police to enforce the ban.
If passed, the law would go into effect in July this year.