State law forbids prohibition on smoking unfiltered cigars
During their regular meeting set for July 11, the Sarasota County commissioners plan to conduct a formal public hearing on a revision of Chapter 90 of the County Code of Ordinances that would ban smoking at all county-owned beaches and within county parks, except for the smoking of unfiltered cigars.
Part of the proposed language in the Code would say, “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.”
Yet another modification of the Code would define “Smoking” as inhaling, exhaling, burning, carrying, or possessing any lighted tobacco product, including cigarettes, pipe tobacco, and any other lighted tobacco product, but does not include unfiltered cigars.”
If the commissioners approve the new regulations, a county staff memo says, they will go into effect on Oct. 1, which will mark the start of the 2024 fiscal year.
In approving their Consent Agenda of routine business matters during their regular meeting on June 13, the commissioners unanimously authorized staff to schedule the July hearing. That meeting will be held at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center, which is located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice. It will begin at 9 a.m. Another county document indicates that the public hearing would be listed among the early items on that July 11 agenda.
On Feb. 22, recently elected Commissioner Mark Smith won the support of his colleagues for a formal discussion of a proposed ban.
In October 2022, when the topic was scheduled to be addressed by the board, Commissioner Nancy Detert — who passed away in early April — asked that the item be pulled from the agenda. She said only that more public awareness was needed before the board pursued such a ban, even though a new state law enacted in 2022 — thanks to the efforts of state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota — made the prohibition possible.
In February, Smith asked that the board take the necessary steps to implement the ban — especially because of the litter left on county beaches, including those on Siesta Key. Then, Detert made it clear that she was worried about changing the county regulations, since the state law allows the smoking of unfiltered cigars.
“The Legislature says it is illegal for us to also say you can’t smoke a cigar on the beach,” she pointed out on Feb. 22. “That puts us in the position of explaining a stupid policy to the general public.”
“The only positive thing about cigars,” Smith responded at the time, is that “there’s no butts about ’em.”
Following an April 25 discussion of the topic, the commissioners directed county staff to prepare for a public hearing on a revised ordinance through which the ban would be implemented.
None of the board members mentioned the item on the June 13 Consent Agenda, which is typical. They approved the majority of those items in one vote — again, in normal fashion. Commissioners generally pull Consent Agenda items for discussion only if they have questions or concerns to express.
The staff memo regarding the June 13 item, provided in the agenda packet, pointed out, “Sarasota County has a history of advocating for the regulation of smoking within public areas. In 2007, the Board approved Ordinance No. 2007-102 amending Chapter 90 of the Sarasota County Code (Code) prohibiting smoking within public beaches and recreational areas where youth athletic activities take place except in designated areas. At the time, [Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department] PRNR staff collaborated with multiple partners on a communications and public education initiative which included signage for the designated smoking areas as well as cigarette filter receptacles.”
The memo then explained that a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge ruled in December 2012 that the state was the only entity that had the authority to ban smoking in specific areas. Thus, the prohibition no longer could be enforced in Sarasota County.
The memo added, “Despite this change, Sarasota County continued its advocacy work to encourage a reduction of cigarette-related litter in the community. Support of legislation to allow local governments to regulate outdoor smoking on public property under their jurisdiction has been in the Board adopted legislative program since September 2013.”
Further, the memo pointed to actions that neighboring local government bodies have taken since the 2022 state law won approval. Among those, the Sarasota City Commission adopted an ordinance on Oct. 17, 2022 that prohibits smoking on city-owned public beaches, within city-owned public beach parks and in city-owned public parks at all times, except within designated areas.
The City of Venice adopted an ordinance on Dec. 13, 2022, banning smoking on its public beaches and within its public parks, as provided for in the state law.
Additionally, the Town of Longboat Key adopted an ordinance prohibiting smoking in its parks, in public places, on public beaches and at beach and bay accesses.
The June 13 county staff memo also noted that Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff is coordinating with the county Communications Department “on the development of a public outreach and communication plan related to the proposed changes to the regulation of smoking within Sarasota County beaches and parks. The plan will include a social media campaign,” including Facebook posts, a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document on the county website, “and appropriate signage at beaches and parks.”