New signage installed at locations
As of Oct. 1, Sarasota County’s ban on cigarette smoking on county-owned beaches and in county parks will take effect, staff is reminding the public.
On July 11, the County Commission voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance that implements the prohibitions.
The smoking of unfiltered cigars will continue to be allowed, as provided for in the 2022 Florida Legislature’s bill permitting local governments to enact smoking bans in their jurisdictions,
State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, had worked for four years to get the new law approved.
During the 2022 legislative session, “Dr. Beach” — Stephen Leatherman, a Florida International University professor known worldwide for issuing a Top 10 U.S. Beaches list before every Memorial Day weekend — worked with Gruters to encourage lawmakers to support the bill.
Leatherman told the News Leader that he had stressed to the lawmakers that, as he prepares his annual list, he awards extra points to any beach where cigarette smoking is prohibited. That helped persuade them to support Gruters’ 2022 bill, Leatherman added.
Among the findings of fact included in the new county ordinance implementing the smoking ban, No. 8 says, “The litter caused by those who improperly dispose of cigarette butts within public beaches and parks is difficult to remove, can lead to severe burns and/or ingestion hazards to park patrons and wildlife, can significantly detract from a healthy environment, and reduce the enjoyment of the County’s beaches and parks for those individuals and families who want to enjoy a healthy environment, free of smoking-related pollution and hazards.”
During remarks prior to the County Commission vote in July, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), explained that an extensive marketing and communications plan would be utilized, to make the public aware of the change in county regulations prior to its taking effect on Oct. 1. She also pointed out that new signage would have to be installed.
In a recent news release, Rissler said, “Sarasota County remains committed to providing safe, world-class beaches and park amenities, and improving water quality.” She added, “This ordinance promotes healthy recreation while reducing second-hand smoke and cigarette-litter that could harm people and wildlife or end up in our waterways.”
After his election in November 2022, Commissioner Mark Smith, who lives on Siesta Key, pushed for implementing the cigarette smoking ban. Initially, the late Commissioner Nancy Detert delayed discussion of the action, finally acknowledging her concern that the public would be confused about the fact that the smoking of unfiltered cigars could continue.
With Gov. Ron DeSantis having appointed Republican Neil Rainford of Sarasota to the board following Detert’s death in April, Commissioner Michael Moran was the only one to oppose the new ordinance.
During an April 25 discussion, Moran contended that the board members should be wary of “trying to control people’s behavior.” He suggested that, as an alternative, the commissioners direct staff to look into stiffer penalties to try to reduce the amount of litter resulting from smoking on the beaches and within parks.
However, Rissler explained that enforcement of the county regulations regarding activities on the beaches is left to law enforcement personnel.
Her belief, she added, is that officers enforce the regulations as they need to do so.
Among other activities prohibited in that chapter, she noted, are allowing dogs on the public beaches and taking glass bottles onto a beach.
“I get it with the youth parks,” Moran said during that discussion, “and you can have kids on the beach.” However, he said, “I just feel a real slippery slope there again of government … intrusion into people’s lives.”
For more information about the ordinance, visit scgov.net or call 311.