Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco is sick of finding cigarette butts in the sand. As he strolls South Beach's white beaches, he regularly has to stop what he's doing to pick them up and throw them away. In fact, he once hosted a beach cleanup that netted more than seven pounds of cigarette butts alone.
"If there was a nuclear war today," Grieco says, "the only thing that would be left tomorrow is cockroaches and cigarette butts."
Florida law bars municipalities from regulating smoking. But Grieco thinks he has a solution for beachgoers like him who want a break from cigarette butts and smoke: a one-block, voluntary, smoke-free zone in the sand. He plans to propose the idea during a commission meeting this month.
The only enforcement would be signs, and they would ask nicely. Grieco envisions language like "Clean Air Zone" or "Thank You for Not Smoking — Voluntary Smoke-Free Zone." He says there won't be any ropes or barriers.
“No pun intended, [but] I don't think drawing a line in the sand is what were looking to do," Grieco says. "We're trying to make this a purely positive thing and not turn it into some draconian, negative thing where we're telling people what to do."
Will it work? He's not sure: "It's partially an environmental experiment; it's partially a social experiment."
Already, an online petition has sprung up in support of the concept.
"People come to the beach for clean air and to enjoy the ocean," said Dave Doebler, whose nonprofit cleanup group volunteercleanup.org started the campaign. "And when somebody sets up next to you and they start chain-smoking cigarettes, it kind of ruins the experience."
The petition has collected 112 signatures in its first week, with supporters writing they want clean air and clean sand. "Only human butts in the sand," wrote E. Peter McLean.
It also drew approval from at least one smoker.
"I'm signing because people that cough and wheeze and flap their hands like lunatics whenever I light a cigarette outdoors will leave me the hell alone!" wrote Christopher Hall.
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That's not to say the idea would be controversy-free. South Beach plays host to thousands of European and South American tourists who love to light up next to the sea.
But others long for a place to escape the fumes. Doebler, who is so bothered by cigarette smoke he packs up and moves when someone starts smoking next to him, says the smoke-free block would become his go-to spot on the beach. He's hopeful other commissioners will get onboard with the idea
"It's just a matter of whether it's perceived as infringing on somebody's rights," he says. "But I think the rights of people who smoke are equal to those who do not smoke."