TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Smokers may have to find a new place to smoke or cancel their beach plans if a newly filed bill becomes law, but a lawmaker representing Jacksonville's beaches believes it's unlikely.
A Senate Republican on Wednesday filed a proposal that would make it illegal for people to smoke on public beaches.
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, filed the measure (SB 218) for consideration during the legislative session that starts March 5.
Under the proposal, law enforcement officers would be able to issue citations to people who smoke tobacco on public beaches.
Penalties would be fines up to $25 or 10 hours of community service.
Aliki Moncrief, with the Florida Conservation Voters, said the proposed penalties would help prevent Florida’s white beaches from becoming someone’s personal ashtray.
"Our beaches are for people to go and have fun, for kids to build sand castles. They're for wildlife," Moncrief said. "Nobody wants to go to the beach and have their kid collecting cigarette butts instead of seashells."
It can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette butt to fully decompose.
"Because cigarette butts are a form of plastic, we're really excited to see this first step towards getting plastic pollution off of our beaches," Moncrief said.
As an added bonus, smoke-free beaches could also make the coast more attractive to tourists such as Maryssa Smith, who was visiting Shell Point Beach from Philadelphia.
"I'm not a smoker at all, so I wouldn't mind it if people didn't smoke on the beach,” Smith said Thursday.
"Seeing the butts on the ground, litter, kind of grosses me out."
It’s illegal to litter on the beach in Florida, but smoking is allowed. A local effort to ban smoking on the beaches in Sarasota County was even overturned by the courts.
State Rep. Cord Byrd represents House District 11, which is made up of all of Nassau County and three Jacksonville-area beach communities. He said he has never received a complaint about smoking on the beach and said the proposal would infringe on basic liberty.
"Well, first blush, I think it's always bad when government tries to enact unenforceable laws," Byrd told News4Jax. "I just don't see how something like that will be enforceable."
Byrd said he would not support it.
"Maybe there's a good intent behind it, but, once again, we have too many laws on the books, too many unenforceable laws," he said. "To add another one just doesn't seem to make any sense."
If the newly filed bill becomes law, the beach smoking ban would go into effect July 1.
So far, the bill has only been proposed in the Senate. A companion measure has not yet been introduced in the House.
Any bill that gets to the governor’s desk has to pass both chambers.