Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Blow to Local Control

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Blow to Local Control

Article excerpt

House blocks ban on smoking in public outdoors

Local governments need the authority to ban outdoor smoking at public beaches and parks. They lobbied the Florida Legislature for this priority, as a matter of health and safety.

But the Legislature does not share the sense of urgency, apparently. According to a report last week by the Herald-Tribune's Lloyd Dunkelberger, legislation that would have curtailed outdoor smoking "appears dead for this year."

That leaves Sarasota County and the city of Sarasota unable to enforce local bans on smoking at beaches and parks. The ordinances were rendered unenforceable last year when a Sarasota County judge found that, according to state law, only the Legislature has the authority to regulate smoking.

There is a statewide ban on most indoor smoking, in keeping with a 2002 constitutional amendment. The amendment's overwhelming approval by Florida voters reflected recognition that secondhand smoke is dangerous. It also answered the public's wish to not be subjected to those toxins.

But the amendment did not cover the outdoors; neither did the implementing legislation. In the gap, local governments -- at the urging of local citizens -- enacted restrictions to curb smoking at public beaches, parks and playgrounds.

A known health risk

Outdoor smoking bans are seen by some people as an intrusion on individual rights. But it's important to note that the restrictions involve beaches and parks owned by the public; these are not private areas.

Unless it can be carefully isolated, smoking does not belong at public parks, beaches and recreation trails. Secondhand smoke is a known health risk, especially for cancer and heart disease; children should not be exposed to it. Furthermore, smokers at public parks make these places difficult to enjoy by people with asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other illnesses. …

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