OUR POSITION: The intent is right, but a more realistic option may be to give local governments authority to enact bans if they choose.^p

Newly elected state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, hasn’t wasted time proposing a feel-good, breathe-better, litter-ridding bill to ban smoking on public beaches in Florida.

Good for him. Good for the rest of us. We suspect, though, the proposal is a long shot with dubious prospects.

The reality is that smoking stinks. It is annoying to those downwind. It is unhealthy for the smoker, primarily, and anyone else nearby, secondarily. Plus, all too often, thoughtless smokers leave behind butt-litter that spoils an otherwise natural area. All too often.

That’s why Sarasota County banned “the use of cigarettes, cigars or any smoking products” at its beaches and parks in 2007. Those who needed a smoke were able go to designated smoking areas in the parking lot, but that was it. And, despite some initial grumbling, the ban proved to be no big deal. The result was fresher air and cleaner public beaches — for five years.

In 2012, a Circuit Court ruled Florida’s Clean Indoor Act preempted all local smoking ordinances. The ruling said the law left all matters of public smoking regulation to the Legislature, which refused to expand smoking bans beyond indoor public spaces.

Fortunately, local governments have been able to find loopholes to limit smoking around youth events at public ball fields and parks. Unfortunately, in the wake of the court ruling, local governments were obliged to kill any smoking bans that went beyond parameters set by state lawmakers. Sarasota first removed its no-smoking signs at the beaches, then wiped its ordinance off the books. The city of Venice, which also had a ban, did the same.

In 2013, the state Legislature saw a bill restoring local smoking/litter control. It had reasonable limitations. The bill sailed through one committee, then crashed on the shoreline of neglect beyond.

Now comes Gruters, whose bill, SB218, would enact a blanket ban on all public beach smoking. Violators would be subject to fines no greater than $25 or subject to 10 hours of community service.

We like the idea — especially the notion that the 10 hours might be spent picking up litter at public parks. We’re skeptical about chances of passage, though.

It sounds good, and it feels good. But it seems an overreach, which probably dooms it.

Better yet would be a law giving local authorities the right to enact bans in their own turf (or sand). Charlotte County never banned beach smoking; Sarasota did. It suited each county’s sensibility and public demand, which is appropriate.

Nevertheless, good for Gruters to bring a bill back to the Legislature. It may be a long shot, but it’s still worth a shot, if, for no other reason that it keeps the issue alive.


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