Smoking Ban Could Return to Beaches



A judge in 2017 declared a Sarasota ban on smoking on the beach to be unconstitutional. Now a Sarasota state senator wants to keep cigarette butts out of the sand statewide.

State Sen. Joe Gruters filed legislation that could put in place a fine of $25 and up to 10 hours of community service for those who smoke on public beaches anywhere in Florida. If that passes through the Florida Legislature and becomes state law, it would eliminate the legal problem that undid Sarasota County and city ordinances. A judge declared local jurisdictions could not pre-empt state law, thereby tossing out a ban on smoking in public parks.

Gruters says the beaches present too much value to the economy. Plus, it’s dirty and gross. “There’s nothing more disgusting than going to the beach and finding a cigarette butt in the sand,” he says.

More importantly as far as the economy goes, smoking impacts publicity for beaches. Siesta Key has twice topped Dr. Beach’s Top 10 Beaches list, in 2011 and again in 2017. Researcher Stephen Leatherman, who compiled data on beaches for the list, gives bonus points for beaches with “No Smoking” policies.

But Florida beaches haven’t been able to get those points thanks to a Sarasota lawsuit. Michael Barfield, board chairman for the ACLU of Florida, worked as a paralegal on that case, and said local police had been targeting homeless caught smoking in public parks.

He’s talked with Gruters about the new bill. “The tobacco industry is not near as powerful as it used to be, so there’s likely a good chance Sen. Gruters’ bill will pass this year,” Barfield says.

But while Barfield says there’s no civil liberty or constitutional right at stake as far as smoking bans, he predicted the ACLU will challenge any law being used to systematically target the homeless.

Gruters doesn’t want that to happen either, he says, and his law allows for designated smoking areas—in pavilions and areas off of the beach itself. “To me, it’s worth pushing for,” Gruters says, “for the enjoyment of everybody attending the beach that won’t have to sit beside someone who is smoking.”

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