Gruters Wants Butts Off Beaches

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY DEC 21, 2020

Sarasota County since 2013 hasn’t been allowed to regulate smoking on its beaches. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, filed legislation this week aiming to change that. A bill filed on Friday would allow cities and counties to ban smoking or vaping on publicly-owned shores. It would ban smoking altogether in state-owned beaches — and all state parks.

“Not only will we allow families the quiet enjoyment of not reaching into the sand and pulling out a cigarette butt or having to breathe second-hand smoke,” Gruters said, “Dr. Beach gives bonuses for smoke-free beaches and it is a huge economic driver. We want our beaches ranked so we can continue to help our tourism market.”

That last part is a big deal economically. Siesta Key Beach has topped the Dr. Beach rankings for best beaches in America twice in the last decade, quite an achievement as the Florida International University list retires beaches for a decade once they hit No. 1. Tourism officials in the region say that while Sarasota’s beaches regularly score well on other hospitality grade cards, the Dr. Beach recognition provides an unrivaled boost in visitation.

How’s smoking fit in? Dr. Stephen Leatherman, the geoscientist behind the rankings, gives points for beaches that ban smoking. Thee grading system puts a high priority on the quality of sand, a big part of why the routinely renourished white sands of Siesta do so well, and measures that ensure cigarette butts don’t mix ash in the grains get looked on favorably.

Sarasota County used to ban smoking at its beaches, but a court decision in 2013 said that violated state law, which explicitly preempts restrictions on outdoor smoking. Gruters two years ago filed legislation to ban smoking on beaches statewide but it never won a committee vote. Last year he filed legislation empowering counties to put local restrictions in place and it made it through a single Senate committee before stalling out. This year’s bill reads like last year’s, and he’s hoping it makes it further through the process.

Photo courtesy Gruters campaign: Sen. Joe Gruters' family on the beach.

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