Commissioner Detert protests new state law, which allows cigar smoking
In early October 2022, the director of Sarasota County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Departments (PRNR) was prepared to make a presentation to the County Commission about the potential ban on cigarette smoking on county beaches and in county parks.
The item was listed for discussion on the Oct. 11, 2022 agenda.
Yet, even before Nicole Rissler of PRNR had an opportunity to step up to the podium, Commissioner Nancy Detert announced that she wanted to delay that item of business until a later day.
“I think we need some public awareness about it,” Detert added, referring to the new state law enabling local government bodies to enact such bans.
“I’d just like a full airing on the details,” Detert said.
After Detert made her comments, then-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 pointed out, “It’s important for the public to understand what’s going on …”
She added that Rissler had told her the discussion could wait until the next month.
Ziegler encouraged county residents to contact the commissioners to convey their views on the topic.
Following the remarks, then-board Chair Alan Maio announced a consensus for continuing the Oct. 11, 2022 agenda item.
With the topic never having appeared on another 2022 agenda, new Commissioner Mark Smith brought it up this week during his reports to his colleagues.
Formally, Smith requested support for direction to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to schedule a discussion of the potential ban.
“That would normally be fine and easy and a 2-second discussion,” Detert responded during the board’s regular meeting on Feb. 22. However, she continued, “The Legislature says it is illegal for us to also say you can’t smoke a cigar on the beach. That puts us in the position of explaining a stupid policy to the general public.”
Detert added, “We’d have to publicize [the legality of cigar smoking]; we’d have to put up signs.”
She also told her colleagues, “I think cigars certainly pollute the sand and air, more so than anything else, and they would be legal. I don’t know how we’d handle it.”
“The only positive thing about cigars,” Smith responded, is that “there’s no butts about ’em.”
Cigarette butt pollution is a concern, along with the health-related issues, Smith noted, alluding to the fact that smoking can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke also has been documented as a cause of cancer in persons who do not smoke.
“I think it would be a step in the right direction,” Smith continued, referring to the cigarette ban.
“I would support that,” Detert replied.
Nonetheless, Detert added, If the board members approve such a prohibition, they also should direct staff to erect signs that say, “ ‘According to the Florida State Statutes, we are not allowed to ban cigars.’ … That’s what I want to see in the plan,” she added.
County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told her that Smith was just asking for a discussion at this point.
“I get that,” she responded.
When Chair Ron Cutsinger asked whether he had consensus for the scheduling of the discussion, no commissioner objected.
The comments came almost exactly a week after Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami — known worldwide as “Dr. Beach” for his annual Top 10 U.S. Beaches list — was nominated for a World Health Organization award for his work on banning cigarettes on beaches.
Leatherman told The Sarasota News Leader last year that he collaborated with Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, in seeking passage of the bill that gave local governments the option of implementing the prohibition.
Leatherman and Gruters stressed to legislators that, when Leatherman works on his Top 10 lists, he traditionally gives extra points to beaches where cigarette smoking is not allowed.
Siesta Key Public Beach first won a No. 1 ranking in 2011 when the county had a cigarette-smoking ban in effect. Subsequently, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge — ruling in a City of Sarasota case, in 2012 — pointed out that local governments did not have the authority to implement such regulations; the state pre-empted that action.
Following the discussion, the News Leader asked how soon county administrative personnel felt the discussion of the potential ban could be placed on a commission agenda. After checking with the staff, Media Relations Officer Sara Nealeigh reported the following response on Feb. 23: “A specific date has not yet been set.”