March 31 of this year, the Englewood Community Coalition recruited about five dozen volunteers to help clean up the beach on Manasota Key.

Almost every step of the way, they were stooping over to pick up cigarette butts. When they added them all up at the end of their day, they had retrieved about 8,500 butts from the sands of Englewood’s biggest draw.

It’s not a unique problem to Englewood.

In the spring of 2018, in Sarasota County, there were close to 4,000 cigarette butts disposed of in portable ashtrays and disposal stations that are available as part of a program to keep beaches cleaner. That does not mean, however that there weren’t hundreds, probably thousands, more butts to be cleaned from the beaches.

So, what can be done about the problem? Not much right now — other than educate people and post signs requesting smokers be considerate of others and of the beautiful beaches we have in Southwest Florida.

If Florida Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) has his way, however, cities and counties will be freed to ban smoking in certain parks and on beaches — something they are not allowed to do under state law now.

A question was posted online asking readers if they supported such a law. Early results suggested yes, they very much do as 36 responders said ban smoking and only seven disagreed.

Gruters’ bill (S.B. 670) would give counties the right to restrict smoking in parks and beaches and outright prohibit smoking in state parks.

Right now counties can do little, although Charlotte County has posted signs to discourage smoking at youth sports fields and has been able to prohibit smoking on trails for safety and wildfire control. Smoking is also not allowed inside county buildings, a state law.

This is not Gruters’ first attempt to limit butts on beaches and in parks. Last year he proposed a similar bill that targeted only public beaches. That bill never made it out of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines told Hardaway the “state doesn’t want to outlaw (smoking) on the beaches, but at least give us the right to do that locally.”

Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch is on board too.

“The more we can restrict smoking, the better,” Deutsch told the Sun. “If we can just do a little bit, that might save one person from the trauma and ordeal for treatment for cancer ...”

Others, of course, believe local or state governments should not have the right to tell them when and where they can smoke. We understand the philosophy behind that. But with only 15.3 % of adults in Charlotte County and about the same in Sarasota and DeSoto counties smoking, we believe the majority should win out.

Giving the counties the right to ban smoking and keep our parks and beaches cleaner would be an excellent example of autonomy for local governments. That’s something lawmakers have normally been in favor of.

We support Gruters’ bill and believe all our lawmakers should too.

An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.