Cigarette smoking is now allowed on Siesta Key public beach.
Sarasota County Judge Maryann Boehm ruled Dec. 10 the city of Sarasota could not issue citations for outdoor smoking.
The ruling also applies to county-owned, non-school property, such as Lido Beach, according to Sarasota County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh’s Jan. 8 commission report.
The American Civil Liberties Union fought the city ordinance, painting the ban as a tool in the war on the homeless.
Chapter 386 of the Florida Statutes, the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, prevents outdoor smoking by anyone under 18 within 1,000 feet of school property and gives the state power to regulate any other outdoor smoking.
“This is really disturbing to me,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta during the meeting. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, also know as Dr. Beach, lauded the ban as one of the reasons Siesta was voted the No. 1 beach in America in 2011.
“Well, that’s a shame,” said Warren LaBonte, owner of the Siesta Key beach pavilion restaurant. “We have a beautiful beach and the whole point of the ban is to keep (cigarette butts) off the beach.”
The material in cigarette filters takes up to three years to degrade naturally, according to a 2001 study by the Environmental Protection Agency. Cigarette can kill wildlife if ingested.
“They won’t even let us have straws here at the beach pavilion,” LaBonte said.
Commissioners in October directed staff to research smoking bans near county facilities.
“Youth athletic leagues are an issue,” said County Administrator Randall Reid after the meeting.
Youth football, baseball and soccer programs use county land, such as Twin Lakes Park, for seasonal play. Now league operators or vendors can ask someone to put out their cigarette during a game — but nothing else.
No smoking signs temporarily will remain in place on county properties, while staff considers the judicial interpretation’s effects on the county, Reid said. One solution is for the county to change the language of signs to encourage a non-smoking environment, as opposed to mandating a ban.
Television screens mounted in the Siesta beach pavilion display the restaurant’s menu, along with information about the environmental harm of smoking cigarettes on the beach, LaBonte said. He and his staff ask smokers to move to designated smoking areas.
“We never had a situation where someone actually refused,” LaBonte said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to have legal staff review the possibility of challenging the precedent.
“I don’t know how this can hold up in court,” Barbetta said. “I don’t know how the Legislature can pass the ‘straight face’ test with this one.”