At Detert’s request, County Commission delays discussion of cigarette-smoking ban on beaches and in county parks

‘Dr. Beach’ joins Tobacco Free Partnership chair and Siesta Key Association president in expressing dismay over decision

The fourth discussion item for the Sarasota County Commission’s Oct. 11 meeting — following the Consent Agenda of routine business items — entailed a staff presentation on the new state law allowing local governments to ban cigarette smoking on public beaches and in public parks.

Yet, even before the vote on the Consent Agenda, Commissioner Nancy Detert announced that she wanted to delay the smoking ban discussion. Chair Alan Maio noted that she meant “continue it” until a later date.

Maio also told the other commissioners that Detert had indicated to him that she wanted to learn how other jurisdictions are acting on the new state law before the Sarasota County commission addresses it.

“I think we need some public awareness about it,” Detert added. “I’d just like a full airing on the details.”

Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), had told her, Detert continued, that the presentation that had been planned for Oct. 11 could wait until November.

Detert further noted that the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC), which she chairs, was scheduled to take up the smoking-ban issue during its Oct. 13 meeting. (That session took place too late in the day for The Sarasota News Leader to report on it this week.)

Although county staff released the Oct. 13 Tourist Development Council agenda last week, the backup materials did not include anything related to the smoking-ban presentation.

After Detert made her comments on Oct. 11, Commissioner Christian Ziegler said, “I’m OK with [the delay]. I know there’s a lot of people that want to ban smoking at our beaches.” However, he continued, “It’s important for the public to understand what’s going on …”
The County Commission has three options, Ziegler pointed out:

  • Implement a full ban on cigarette smoking on county-owned beaches and in county parks.
  • Implement a ban but allow designated smoking areas for people visiting the beaches and the parks.
  • Continue to allow cigarette smoking at county beaches and in the parks.

“I would encourage [county residents] to contact us and let us know where they stand on [the issue] and what their views are on it,” Ziegler added.

His understanding, he told his colleagues, is that if Rissler of PRNR makes her presentation to them in November, that still would allow for any changes in county regulations to take effect in January, which — he noted — staff had indicated was its goal.

With no further comments from commissioners, Maio announced the consensus for continuing the Oct. 11 agenda item.

City Commission approves cigarette-smoking bans

On Oct. 3, the Sarasota City Commission conducted its second reading of two ordinances that ban cigarette smoking — for North Lido Beach, which is the only part of the shoreline within its jurisdiction, and an ordinance governing smoking in city parks. They approved the measures on unanimous votes.

City Attorney Robert Fournier told the News Leader in an Oct. 5 email that he and his staff are recommending that warnings be issued for the first 60 days, or perhaps longer, to make certain that the changes in the city regulations become public knowledge and to allow for the erection of new signage.

The new state law did carve out an exception for the smoking of unfiltered cigars. Therefore, the city ordinances make it clear that the bans do not affect that action.

The city commissioners previously had agreed to specify designated smoking areas for people, with the parking lot for North Lido to serve that purpose at the beach.

At the City Commission’s request, its Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board on Sept. 15 addressed the issue of designated smoking areas in the parks. The PREP board members voted 5-1 to recommend that the City Commission allow certain areas in parks with parking lots to be used by smokers. A draft resolution to that effect likely will come before the City Commission for a vote in November, City Attorney Fournier added in his email to the News Leader.

Disappointed advocates question County Commission action

When the News Leader on Oct. 11 contacted Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), about the County Commission discussion, she questioned the board members’ motivation for not proceeding with a cigarette-smoking prohibition on the beaches.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time,” Luckner said, “and I don’t understand why we don’t already have [a new county regulation].” She referenced the City Commission’s quick actions to implement the city’s ordinances.

Luckner also reminded the News Leader that when “Dr. Beach” — Stephen Leatherman, a professor in the Earth and Environment program at Florida International University in Miami — first named Siesta Key Beach No. 1 in the United States, in 2011, that accolade was based largely on the fact that cigarettes were banned on the county’s beaches at the time.

Then, following a 12th Judicial Circuit Court decision in December 2012, which found local government prohibitions on smoking to be a violation of state law, Luckner added, “We were all shocked to suddenly have someone say we are not [a no-smoking beach].”

That ruling by Circuit Judge Maryann Boehm came in a case involving the City of Sarasota’s original no-smoking ordinance.

The status of Siesta Key Beach as a no-smoking facility “got us a very positive worldwide reputation,” Luckner continued. “Been there, done it, and let’s have it back,” she said of the ban.

Luckner did say she wondered whether the commissioners are concerned that a cigarette-smoking prohibition would make them appear to be restricting people’s freedoms. Her retort to that, she emphasized, is, “I believe in the freedom to breathe.”

In response to the News Leader’s request for comment, as well, Leatherman — “Dr. Beach” — wrote in an Oct. 12 email, “I don’t understand the delay by Commissioner Nancy Detert because this issue has been in the news for quite a while.

“In fact,” Leatherman pointed out, as Luckner had, “Siesta Beach was previously no smoking as established by the Sarasota County Commission some years ago.

“I certainly hope that the Commission moves ahead with making Sarasota beaches cleaner and healthier,” Leatherman concluded his email.

The News Leader also contacted Charles Denault, chair of the Tobacco Free Partnership (TFP) Sarasota County, about the board’s action this week. Denault replied in an Oct. 12 email, “Here at the TFP, we’re disappointed that the county commissioners have delayed the ban of cigarettes in parks and beaches. But given that Hurricane Ian has disrupted so many people’s lives throughout the county, a little more time to draft the ordinance seems reasonable. Of course since Sarasota County had a smoking ban in place several years ago,” he added, “we don’t think it should take the staff long to complete their review. We look forward to discussing the ban at the next meeting of commissioners.”