SARASOTA, Fla. — You don’t have to walk too far on a Florida beach before you start seeing cigarette butts in the sand.
"It just makes me really mad that people leave their trash around and there’s obviously a place to put it," said Jasper Ernst, who loves going to the beach with her family.
That trash inspired the 10-year-old and her siblings to work with their mother, Sarasota artist Erin Ernst, to create oversized cigarettes butts as an example of the problem. A problem that Florida senator Joe Gruters has worked for years to fix.
"We want the bad butts off the beach," said Gruters.
Gruters announced he is again sponsoring a bill that would allow counties and cities to ban smoking on beaches. This is the fourth time the senator has sponsored the bill that he says would make beaches safer and more attractive to visitors.
"I don’t want to infringe on their right but at the same time, I don’t want smokers to infringe on the rights of families trying to enjoy the beach in a quiet and safe way. So I think there’s a way to do both and that kicks it back to the local governments and gives them a chance to set up designated smoking areas," said Gruters.
Supporters say the smoke is a nuisance and the butts harm the environment and wildlife.
"It actually harms the animals themselves and that is simply not right. We need to do everything we can to protect our sea turtles, our marine mammals, and our sea birds," said J.P. Brooker, director of Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy.
Ocean Conservancy is the nation’s oldest marine conservation nonprofit organization. Brooker says during their annual beach cleanup, cigarette butts have been the most commonly found item on Florida beaches for the past 31 years.
"People should clean up, they shouldn’t leave cigarette butts or cans or anything. That’s just common courtesy to everyone else," said Gary Ciccone, who is visiting Lido Beach with his family.
But Ciccone says he thinks the ban is an overreach.
"As far as a ban on an open beach, the Gulf of Mexico is right here. I think it's an overreach especially out in the open like this," said Ciccone.
Gruters says Doctor Beach who ranks the most beautiful beaches gives bonus points to smoke-free beaches. He believes the ban would increase tourism.
If passed the bill could go into effect this summer.