No Butts About It

City of Sarasota Public Parks and Beaches Are One Step Closer to Being Butt-Free

Cigarette butts, that is.

By Kim Doleatto September 7, 2022

cigarette butts littered in the sand at a beach.

Another hurdle toward banning butts—cigarette butts, that is—at local beaches and parks gained unanimous support from commissioners at a City of Sarasota Commission meeting on Tuesday. 

The ban would allow smokers to light up in park or beach parking lots, where available. If no parking areas exist near a city-owned park or beach, smokers would be allowed to light up on public right-of-ways or sidewalks where they could dispose of cigarette butts appropriately. Smoking would not be allowed on beaches or in parks. The only city-owned beaches are on Lido Key.

Unfiltered cigars are excluded from the ban.

Commissioner Hagen Brody wondered whether or not smoking could be allowed in more secluded places—for example, during an isolated game of golf at the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Complex. But Commissioner Liz Alpert noted, "It has to be everywhere. It's better to be consistent."

The handful of public speakers who participated in the meeting supported the ban, including Charles Denault, the chairman of the Tobacco Free Partnership of Sarasota County. He pointed out that cigarette butts take up to 10 years to degrade and, in the meantime, “leach toxins like arsenic and lead that are poisonous to animals that ingest them. Those toxins then work their way up the food chain and get to us."

To wit, research conducted by the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, has found that cigarette butts are the fourth most harmful type of litter to marine life.

Cigarette butts have also been the most frequently found item on Florida beaches during the last 31 years of the Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup. Denault also said that 3,000 butts were picked up in Tobacco Free Partnership of Sarasota County's most recent cleanup, and reminded the commissioners that secondhand smoke causes significant harm, including being causally linked to cancer and to other potentially fatal diseases.

However, in 2013, that ban was overturned in court following a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization accused Sarasota County of attempting to punish homeless people and argued that state law indicated only the legislature could regulate smoking, which was true at the time.

Almost 10 years later, House Bill 105, which became effective on July 1 this year, amended the Florida Clean Air Act to allow municipalities to restrict smoking within the boundaries of public beaches and parks. 

Although support for the ban was quick and sure, the ordinance will require a second reading by City of Sarasota commissioners. If passed, the ban would mandate signage in designated areas outlining the new rules, along with dedicated receptacles for smokers to get their butts in line.

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