Gruters proposes statewide beach smoking ban

Beach Smoking ban
State Sen. Joe Gruters has proposed a statewide ban on tobacco use on public beaches. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

SARASOTA – If Florida Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) has his way, Anna Maria Island’s beaches and those throughout Florida would become no-smoking zones.

Filed on Jan. 2, Gruters’ Senate Bill 218 seeks to prohibit tobacco use on public beaches and issue citations and $25 fines to first-time violators.

Gruters’ proposed legislation seeks to create a new state law that says: “Smoking prohibited on public beaches… It is unlawful for any person to smoke tobacco on a public beach.”

The legislation does not specifically address vaping.

Gruters was among those who attended Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press conference in Sarasota last week. When asked afterward about his proposed beach smoking legislation, Gruters said he thinks it’s “disgusting” to see someone throw a cigarette butt on the beach or to stick your hand in the sand and come up with a cigarette butt.

“This is basically the result of me having discussions with constituents. People kept telling me they didn’t like sitting next to people who smoked. People have the right to smoke and hopefully, we can provide them designated smoking areas on the sidewalks.

“But the bottom line is we need to make sure we protect peoples’ rights to have quiet enjoyment of the natural resource, which is the beaches, and protect our residents and tourists so they can come enjoy them without having to experience secondhand smoke,” Gruters said.

In 2013, Sarasota County’s beach-smoking ban was deemed unconstitutional after being enacted by the Sarasota County Commission in 2007. State law, however, grants the state Legislature the sole authority to ban smoking at public beaches statewide.

Vacation rental regulation

The Sun also asked Gruters if he anticipates the state Legislature repeating its past unsuccessful efforts to repeal or further restrict local governments’ ability to regulate vacation rentals.

“My predecessor had those bills the last two years, and I don’t know if there’s as much energy towards pushing that forward now that he’s gone. Only time will tell,” Gruters said.

Gruters now holds the senate seat vacated by former Florida Sen. Greg Steube. Steube and State Rep. Mike LaRosa led those past legislative efforts, but Steube is now a U.S. Congressman.

Florida’s 2019 legislative session will begin March 5 and continue for at least 60 days.