New Law First Step In Ending Beach Smoking

Todays News

One of the 13 bills Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, shepherded to law this year could soon lead to smoking restrictions at the region’s beaches.

“This is something I’ve worked on the last four years, and it originated in Sarasota when the local commission passed a law and was sued by the ACLU,” Gruters said. “I’ve on it for so long. Just to have it implemented today is a big deal.”

The law went into effect on Friday allowing local governments to ban or limit smoking on beaches. Governments still must pass new ordinances under the new statute before a change can go into effect. But Gruters at a Lido Key press conference shared the podium Friday with Sarasota City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, who vowed the matter will come up at a City Commission meeting Tuesday.

“I am so thrilled in the City of Sarasota to be able to regulate this at the local level, and for the rest of the cities in Florida to have this ability,” Ahearn-Koch said.

The politicians rare share a stage. Most of the Sarasota City Commission is made up of Democrats, including Ahearn-Koch, and Gruters chairs the Republican Party of Florida. The Ocean Conservancy hosted the Lido Key press conference, where Florida Atlantic University professor Stephen Leatherman, the researcher behind the Dr. Beach national rankings, also attended.

“Now that the law is officially in place, Ocean Conservancy is urging local governments to take action to implement these rules,” said J.P. Brooker, Ocean Conservancy state director. “We know our leaders care about protecting our seabirds, our sea turtles, our marine mammals, and now it’s time to take the historic step to protect them.”

Leatherman at the event spoke about how littered cigarettes played a role in him launching his famous Dr. Beach list in the first place. “I give bonus points in my annual ranking of America’s best beaches,” he said. “The first beach to do this was Hanauma Bay Beach in O’ahu, Hawaii. The reason they did that, if you have been there, it’s for snorkeling with all those tropical fish. The fish were eating the cigarette butts. I worked with Hawaii. The next thing you know, all of O’ahu is no smoking. It can’t happen. Waikiki is a world famous beach. People won’t come here anymore. Well it didn’t affect tourism one bit.”

Today, beaches in Hawaii often provide the main competition on Dr. Beach’s listings, where Siesta Key has multiple times topped the list. 

As the bill worked its way through the Legislature this year, Ocean Conservancy installed a public art exhibit with oversized cigarette butts scattered around Lido Key. At the end of the press conference, Gruters, Ahearn-Koch, Leatherman and other symbolically uninstalled the artwork.

““And with this,” Gruters said, “we only want the right butts on the beach.”

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