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Sarasota beaches and parks may ban smoking after new Florida law goes into effect

WWSB Tampa logo WWSB Tampa 7/2/2022 Shane Battis
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A new Florida law is going into effect this July allowing local governments to choose if they want to ban smoking at public beaches and parks.

Smoking on Sarasota beaches may soon be a thing of the past.

The Florida Clean Air Act is going into effect, which means local governments can now choose if they want to ban smoking on public beaches and parks.

Several officials and environmental advocates are celebrating the first day of the new law on Lido Beach, where a news conference was held to explain how the law could be implemented locally. State Senator Joe Gruters, who sponsored the bill, spoke alongside a representative from Ocean Conservancy, Sarasota City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch and Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman.

All of them brought out giant sculptures of cigarette butts and threw them into a trash bag, symbolizing a future where beachgoers won’t have to deal with finding used cigarettes in between their toes when they visit their favorite beaches.

“There’s nothing more disgusting than when you put your hand in the sand and you pull it out and you feel that cigarette butt,” Gruters said.

J.P. Brooker, who is the director of Florida conservation for Ocean Conservancy, talked about how banning smoking could be a big help to the environment because it would eliminate harmful litter left behind by smokers. He described how cigarette butts contain small plastic fibers, which eventually breakdown and hurt fish that eat the litter, as well as the people who end up eating those fish.

“It can impact animal health and reproductivity, and it can impact human health when people consume sick fish and when the plastics enter the environment,” he said.

It’s a problem plaguing beaches not just on the Suncoast, but all over Florida. Research from Ocean Conservancy found cigarette butts to be the top item left behind on beaches for the past 31 years they’ve hosted the International Coastal Cleanup.

Sarasota may be one of the first cities to move forward with a ban.

Commissioner Ahearn-Koch explained the city and county partnered on a smoking ban back in 2008, but that was later overturned years later. When the commission meets next week, they’ll consider reenacting that same ordinance, or they’ll work on writing new ones addressing both the beaches and parks.

She floated the idea that these new rules could also come with some relief for smokers, like designated areas in parking lots where smoking is allowed.

Dr. Beach expressed excitement watching Sarasota begin discussing plans for a smoking ban.

“I see Sarasota is stepping up first as they have in the past,” he said. “But I’m hoping many other Florida communities and counties step forward.”

Dr. Beach, who is well-known for ranking coastlines all over the world, believes these measures can be helpful for tourism. He pointed to beaches in Hawaii earning high scores after doing away with smoking, and thinks Florida could catch up if it follows suit.

The Sarasota City Commission will meet on Tuesday to begin discussing proposals for a smoking ban.

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