Two years ago, when Miami Beach commissioners wanted to reduce smoking on the city's beaches, they had only one option: asking nicely. Florida is one of a few states where municipalities cannot regulate tobacco use, so the commission created voluntary smoke-free areas at Fifth Street and 86th Street, where pastel-colored signs thanked beach-goers for not lighting up.
"If there was a nuclear war today, the only thing that would be left tomorrow is cockroaches and cigarette butts," then-Commissioner Michael Grieco, who sponsored the ordinance, said at the time.
Now, a bill filed in the Florida Legislature would ban cigarettes on beaches. Senate Bill 218, proposed by Republican Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, would make smoking on public beaches a civil infraction. Violators could be fined $25 or ordered to perform ten hours of community service.
To Grieco, who was elected to the state House in November (after leaving his city commission post amid a campaign finance scandal), it's a welcome concept. He was frustrated the city couldn't do more than put up signs to address the litter and health problems created by beach smoking.
"It was a good public service message, but we knew
The City of Hollywood erected signs similar to Miami Beach's in 2017, with cutesy sayings like, "Smell flowers, not smoke." Commissioners had initially considered a ban but backed off out of fear the law would be overturned.
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Beach visitors told the Sun-Sentinel they thought the signs were dumb.
"If you can’t enforce it, why put up signs at all?" a man named Alex Cordani told the paper. "It’s a waste of taxpayer money. Imagine driving down I-95 and seeing a sign saying: Suggested speed limit 65 mph. No one’s going to follow it. Why bother having it?"
When the City of Sarasota took more decisive action and made it illegal to smoke on the beach, a judge ruled the ordinance unconstitutional.
If the ban is approved, Florida will join New Jersey, where a similar law is set to take effect this year.