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Smoking banned at public beaches and parks in Sarasota County

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the ban, which goes into effect on Oct. 1.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Changes are coming to local beaches and parks in Sarasota County. Those changes also mean you would not be able to light up your favorite cigarettes for a few puffs at the beach. Sarasota County commissioners approved a ban on smoking in all of its county-owned parks and beaches. 

The ordinance follows a state law that gave local governments the power to make such laws. Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the ban, which goes into effect on Oct. 1. The ban will impact those who smoke cigarettes and filtered cigars.

"I totally agree with it. I've never been a smoker but it does mess things up when you get the birds pecking at them and things like that. It's probably not good for the little kids picking them up," Sarasota resident Kurt Carter said.

Several visitors to Siesta Key who spoke with 10 Tampa Bay welcomed the smoking ban.

"One day we were sitting up front on the beach, I couldn't see the person but I could smell it and it was making me sick to my stomach," Marcie Todd of Philadelphia said.

In July 2022, the state legislature passed a law that would let local counties and municipalities prohibit smoking at the local level.

Sarasota's ordinance points to littering as the core issue that necessitated the ban and the impact those cigarette butts have on the environment and wildlife. 

"That's an excellent idea. Unfortunately, cigarette butts end up on the beach and sometimes folks don't put out the cigarettes before they throw them away and you could accidentally step on a lit cigarette butt," Steven Procter of Washington, D.C., said.

"Why are you smoking and leaving cigarette butts on the beach? I don't see why it's necessary to smoke on the beach," Todd said.

The ordinance would also prevent smoking at parks, playgrounds and sporting fields used by children and families.

"It will prohibit it in our natural areas where you know one cigarette butt that gets dropped in the middle of a natural area could cause devastating wildfires," Nicole Rissler with Sarasota County Parks and Recs said.

The county plans to first educate the public and visitors by putting up "no smoking signs" in parks and beaches by the fall.

Those who break the law will face a fine of up to $74.

"We anticipate that there will not be a ton of civil fines being put out there but more of this being about an education awareness campaign across the board and maybe even a little peer pressure," Rissler said.

"I think it's a good thing. Keep our beaches clean. That is probably the number one thing. I really don't care about the smoke smell," Keith Breitenstein of Sarasota said.

Several cities in our area including the city of Sarasota, Longboat Key, Port Charlotte and Clearwater amongst others have similar bans on smoking in place. Some of those bans come with fines as high as $500 dollars for those caught in violation. 

"If you need a nicotine fix, you better have it in the parking lot and put it in your car and then come down to the beach," Carter said.

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