SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A senator wants to ban smoking at public beaches statewide, but some local businesses think it's a bad idea.
Senator Joe Gruters filed a bill Wednesday, hoping it will be heard this session. The bill prohibits smokers from lighting up at beaches. If someone violates the law, they could be fined up to $25, have to complete 10 hours of community service, or both.
“What we’re trying to do is deter the activity and just say listen stop smoking,” Senator Gruters said.
There used to be a beach smoking ban in Sarasota County. It lasted 5 years. A judge overturned the decision.
“The judge said that this was a state issue and it was against the state constitution for a county to put in a restriction that should be dealt with at the state level,” Senator Gruters said.
That is why Senator Gruters is taking it to state leaders. If the bill passes, it would go into effect July 1. Senator Gruters said it would include designated smoking areas near the beach like at a pavilion or parking lot, but not on the sand.
“To me, there’s nothing more disgusting than when I go to the beach and I step in the sand then I step on a cigarette butt or if I am sitting next to somebody and they’re smoking,” Senator Gruters said.
The senator said the importance of the bill is about keeping Florida beaches an economic driver for the state.
“Oh yeah I’m glad you came by. This.....this is something,” Jack Bennington said.
He is the owner of Bennington Tobacco. He has been selling cigars for decades at St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota County.
He said the previous county smoking ban hurt business.
“When you start taking those liberties away than people aren’t as...don’t enjoy themselves as much and as a consequence, they might not come back,” Bennington said.
He said his customers were happy when the county smoking ban went away -now knowing the issue is back, he will be paying attention to what happens in Tallahassee.
“We’re not in favor of that at all. I’d like to know what his motivation is and (if) he wants to focus on something, he should focus on red tide,” Bennington said.