SARASOTA, Fla. — A renewed effort to snuff out smoking on Florida beaches may again get some consideration during the state's upcoming legislative session.
State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, introduced a bill last year that would allow local governments to ban smoking and cigarette butts from public beaches and state parks.
And on Tuesday, he made another push for the cause along with environmentalists with the Ocean Conservancy on Sarasota's Lido Key Beach.
“This doesn’t mean that we're gonna ban smoking on all beaches and parks throughout Florida. This will just give them power and return the ability of local governments and give them the chance to do what’s best for their communities," Gruters explained.
He suggested the idea of local municipalities creating designated smoking areas at beaches and parks so that people can still smoke without disrupting other families.
"We want freedom but at the same time, we want quiet and peaceful enjoyment of families being able to go out there and go to the beach without putting their hands in the sand and picking up some of these cigarette butts," the state senator added.
Five cigarette butt sculptures, made by local artist Erin Ernst, were the backdrop to the news conference where representatives from Ocean Conservancy joined Gruters to highlight the negative impacts of smoking waste.
“Our data point shows that for 31 consecutive years, cigarette butts have been the number one item found on Florida beaches," said Jon Paul 'J.P.' Brooker, the director of Florida Conservation at the organization.
While cigarette butts aren't typically thought of as plastic waste, Brooker explained they actually contain small plastic fibers that can be ingested by fish and wildlife that end up back on our plates.
“We’re actually consuming that plastic," he said.
Gruters' initial bill failed to get out of a committee last year, meaning it was not considered by the full legislature.
Florida Politics earlier reported a court ruled against Sarasota County's smoking ban on Siesta Key, one of the region's most popular beaches and most recognized nationally, because state law allows smoking in most outdoor places.