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Parks & Rec Board Recommends Smoking Ban in Public Parks

The board unanimously recommended that the Sarasota City Commissioners pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of tobacco in all city-owned parks.

After lengthy discussion, the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Board on Thursday afternoon agreed to recommend that city commissioners pass an ordinance banning tobacco use in all Sarasota public parks. The motion did not call for specific punitive measures.

For many residents, the motion was a long time coming. A petition was submitted to city commissioners asking for a ban in all city parks more than two years ago. Tobacco use at Lido Beach was banned previously.

Member John Hartmann commented, “I am frankly appalled that a city with a cosmopolitan nature and green incline would never have addressed this issue, when the evidence against the use of tobacco seems to be overwhelming.”

Several board members expressed reservations regarding enforcement. Citing the skaters that freely roam about downtown, Susan Hagglund commented, “I’d hate to see another ordinance go on the books that’s not going to be enforced.”

Millie Small brought up seat belts as an example of a similarly difficult measure to enforce. With time, there is a paradigm shift and people willingly buckle up, she said. Similarly, Small argued, people will eventually know not to smoke in the park.

Todd Kucharski, General Manager of Park Services added that staff, lifeguards and even citizens have been helping to enforce the ordinance and educate the public at Lido Beach. However, it was also noted that staff have not noticed a significant decrease in the number of cigarette butts left on the ground.

Board chair Kathryn Marquis worried that the ban would infringe on people’s “public rights,” leading into a conversation on logistics. Will people be able to walk across the street and light up? Will parking lots be included? How about a designated smoking zone? And how will this impact the customers of O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill’s ability to smoke outside the restaurant?

John Hartman interjected, saying, “Frankly, I think we’re getting tied up in our underwear here by worrying about enforcement and—that isn’t our job to enforce. That’s somebody else. I think the issue is a central one: are we condoning the use of tobacco or are we not? And if we set up smoking areas by a park, we have in effect endorsed the use of tobacco products. And I think that’s wrong.”

After 25 minutes of discussion, Marquis brought the group to a vote, and the motion to make the tobacco ban recommendation passed unanimously.

Other Business

The board moved on to discuss recent complaints regarding the homeless population’s heavy use of benches at Five Points Park. Kucharski noted that they are often slept on, despite the divider in the seats.

Interestingly, the word “homeless” was never used, with members instead using euphemisms such as “local public people.”

Benches were recently removed from around the seashell fountain in Lemon Avenue Mall on First and Lemon Ave. 

Kucharski suggested a six month study that will solicit feedback from the community and explore the option of benches that are even less friendly to the homeless.

Other topics of discussion included creating kayak storage at city parks.

Catherine Seress March 18, 2011 at 11:58 AM
I disagree with John Hartman's comment that it is not "up to them to enforce." Creating rules and laws that are unenforceable - whether by man power or exorbitant in cost to enforce - is pointless. It is not about condoning the use of tobacco. It is about the ability to enforce said laws, ordinances and "rules" that makes them of value to the community. And so now ... we will be left to our own devices to confront persons whose very appearance can frighten us? That we - the general public - are to enforce that which City Commissioners have deemed to be against ordinance? Where will John Hartman be? I doubt he personally will be patrolling our city parks and enforcing this ordinance. After all, he said that that is not what it is about ... He says it is about "condoning" smoking. Perhaps we should make smokers wear a scarlet "S" on their sleeves?
Steve Wetters March 18, 2011 at 04:32 PM
I agree, if you can't enforce a law-just don't have it. Lets get rid the traffic law that states we must stop at a red lights or a stop signs. No one is enforceing it, so why have it..........
Linda Carragher Bourne March 18, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I really DO NOT get this whole denigration and outlawing of the smoking public. It outrages me. For many, many years I have been a very responsible smoker, only lighting up outside and being careful to not even do that if I'm in a crowded area where I believe people are going to be offended. (Can you say, "Cancer of the EYES?!). Further, I always "field strip" my cigs when I'm finished and pocket the butts to be disposed of correctly and responsibly. I am beyond tired of feeling like a criminal because I (courteously) choose to smoke cigarettes. C'mon, people. Get a GRIP! PS: I was on the beach at Siesta Key yesterday, a well-know non-smoking zone. While I sat there frustrated, people all around me were not only drinking alcoholic beverages in public, but also carelessly tossing their containers on the ground. Where is the justice here?!
chris C. March 18, 2011 at 07:34 PM
this is crazy if people cant smoke in public then we should not have our tax dollars for parks or any other place where we cant smoke at least be sensible enough to create a smoking spot or area. But if I cant smoke at a public park i wont go and will begin to find ways to stop MY tax dollars for funding a place I cant go. people need to remember they are elected and that can change.
Mark April 12, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Smoking should not be allowed in parks or beaches. This is successful in California. Second hand smoking causes extreme stress and dangerous, immediate health issues to people with COPD and asthma. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air due to dozens of harmful chemicals.

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