Carlton: Ban butts from our beaches? Sorry, smokers did it to themselves

Pity the poor smoker, welcome fewer public places than dogs these days. Now lawmakers consider banning their noxious butts from our beaches. Sorry, smokers, your time is up.
A cigarette butt in the sand on Treasure Island. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, plans to offer legislation in the 2019 session banning smoking on Florida's beaches. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
A cigarette butt in the sand on Treasure Island. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, plans to offer legislation in the 2019 session banning smoking on Florida's beaches. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published January 17
Updated January 18

If you are in Florida and you smoke, your world might be about to shrink a little smaller.

Soon lawmakers will consider making our beaches buttless.

And cigarette smokers have no one to blame but the most careless among them.

This wasn't always so. Once upon a time, Florida was a Mad Men sort of place in which smokers could puff away with impunity pretty much anywhere — at work or in a restaurant with an ashtray at the ready next to the salt and pepper.

The world turned on them. Well, not so much the world as the people in it who did not appreciate the indoor inhaling of all that noxious secondhand smoke.

So no smoking in restaurants or most public buildings. Today, you see packs of the displaced-but-determined huddled outside their offices under clouds of smoke, braving the glares of passersby who snark about the stink. You would not be far off to wonder if lately, in some cities, dogs seem welcome more places than a guy with a pack of Newports in his pocket.

But there's always the beach, right?

Our glorious, open-air and open-to-everyone beaches, where secondhand smoke is less of a problem, where a man can sit on his blanket and watch the waves and puff away to his heart's content. Right?

Better light up fast, because there's at least a chance your lawmakers will favor butt-free beaches over Big Tobacco in the next legislative session that starts in March.

Senate Bill 218, sponsored by Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters, would make lighting up on public beaches a ticketable offense that could cost you up to 10 community service hours or $25. That's about four packs of smokes at your neighborhood 7-11.

(Interesting side note: Depending on what lawmakers do and don't get done, we could end up a state in which you can get a ticket for lighting up a smoke by the shore but police remain powerless to pull over a driver for texting away instead of paying attention to the road. But that also-pending tougher texting law is a subject for another day.)

This ban is all about the butts, those nasty cigarette filters left behind on those famous sugar-sand beaches that get us the wows on the travel blogs.

You know those handy butt bins installed at some public beaches for easy disposal of the dead ends of cigarettes? Maybe like me you have witnessed the ground in front of those bins littered with butts, as if the very act of reaching over to extinguish them properly was too much to ask.

It's not just that butts are ugly, like the greasy McDonald's bags and sticky Gatorade bottles also inconsiderately left behind. Toxins in cigarette butts — which can literally take years to decompose — can seep into the ground and be eaten by birds and other wildlife. People who do regular beach clean-ups will tell you cigarette butts are what they see most.

They are also, to use the scientific term here, disgusting.

And it's too bad, because Florida has this distinctive do-your-own-thing vibe. Our outdoors are for everyone to enjoy pretty much the way they want. And even when it becomes clear rules are necessary to get people to behave in a civilized society, nobody loves a Nanny State.

But the current proliferation of butts is too much. It's time to ban beach smoking for the good of the many — assuming our lawmakers have the gumption to do what's right for the environment and the rest of us without, excuse the expression, just blowing smoke.

Feel strongly about banning butts on the beach? You can find your legislators at and let them know.


Speaking of trashing where we live, I recently wrote a column about two Tampa lawyers who pick up litter on a stretch of road called Ramblewood. They were inspired by a man they regularly saw running along that road in a pair of blue shorts and diligently picking up the trash — until one day he mysteriously disappeared.

Turns out he saw the column. Blue Shorts Guy (he prefers Ramblewood Runner) emailed me to say how much he appreciated the lawyers taking up the task and assuring me he's keeping things similarly tidy in his new neighborhood.

Contact Sue Carlton at