Sen. Joe Gruters celebrated a new law going into effect that could mean an end to cigarette butts on Sarasota’s beaches. The cleanup for Lido Beach started — at least symbolically — with the removal of some extra-large butts off the beach.
At a press conference alongside Florida Atlantic University professor Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman, Sarasota City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch and leaders from the Ocean Conservancy, the Sarasota Republican uninstalled a public art exhibition representing oversized cigarettes in the sand. Participants tossed the faux carcinogens into bags to haul away.
“And with this, we only want the right butts on the beach,” Gruters said. “No more cigarette butts.”
Under a new law championed by Gruters over the past four years and passed in March, local governments can now outlaw smoking in public parks and beaches.
Leatherman, who posts a ranking of beaches based on sand quality that drives tourism nationwide, said the legislation should prove beneficial to Florida’s standing on Dr. Beach.
“I am so pleased that this new law as proposed and promoted by State Senator Joe Gruters was signed by Governor (Ron) DeSantis, and I am sure that Sarasota will again take the lead in prohibiting smoking on their beautiful beaches,” Leatherman said. “Hopefully, other beach communities statewide will also pass regulations to make their beaches cleaner and healthier.”
The law signed by DeSantis (HB 105) will leave it to counties and cities how to regulate smoking in their parks. But Leatherman’s ranking system will award points to any beach with a smoking ban in place.
To Gruters, that gives an economic incentive for communities to pass local ordinances protecting their shores. That means there’s two-fold benefit from the new law, for the environment and for the financial health of beach communities.
“There is nothing more disgusting than when you can put your hand in the sand and you pull it out, and all of the sudden you feel that cigarette butt, especially when your kids are playing in the sand,” Gruters said.
The Ocean Conservancy has consistently found during beach cleanups that discarded cigarettes far and away remain the most littered item. The group praised the new law.
“Now that the law is officially in place, Ocean Conservancy is urging local governments to take action to implement these new rules,” said J.P. Brooker, director of Florida Conservation at Ocean Conservancy. “We know our leaders care about protecting our seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals. Taking this historic step to save our environment is exciting.”
Of note, both the Sarasota City Commission and County Commission had banned smoking on beaches in the past, but after the ACLU sued Sarasota over its ordinance, a judge in 2017 ruled only the state could regulate outdoor tobacco use.
Ahearn-Koch became the first city official to publicly express interest in passing a new ordinance now that the change to state law has gone into effect. She said when the City Commission meets on Tuesday, the topic of bringing a new local ordinance forward will be discussed.
“I am so thrilled that we finally have the ability in the city of Sarasota to regulate at the local level,” she said, “and the rest of the cities in Florida have this ability.”