Sunset Beach Civic Association cleans up beach with touch of humor

Sunset Beach Community Association Beach Cleanup has posted several small signs to encourage beach visitors to throw their cigarette butts in the trash cans. TBN columnist John Morton says a proposed ban on smoking on Florida sand would be even better.

OK, here’s the scene: You are chillin’ on St. Pete Beach when a lady of your liking stops and stands under a no smoking sign. You say, with an expression of concern, “Excuse me, miss,” and point to the sign.

Her: “But I’m not smoking.”

You, as you look her up and down: “Oh, I beg to differ.”

In the name of minimizing beach litter, could the opportunity to deliver trashy pick-up lines (ha!) be enough to give legs (I just can’t stop) to a proposed ban on smoking on Florida sand?

Yes! No butts about it.

Republican House member Joe Gruters has introduced the measure. If approved in the upcoming legislative session, it would go into effect July 1. First-time offenders would receive a $25 ticket or 10 hours of community service — no doubt picking up cigarette butts while they’re the butt of our jokes.

Gruters, a Tampa native, represents Sarasota. That’s where that county instituted a ban between 2007 and 2012 before a judge ruled it unconstitutional. Well, I was a frequent visitor to Siesta Key during that time period and witnessed firsthand the cat-and-mouse game between smokers and law enforcement.

It went like this: A smoker would see the cops noisily roll along on their four-wheelers and put out their coals before they got close. Then, when the coast was clear, they’d flame back up.

I did see a few instances where members of beach patrol approached a few unknowing puffers, and all they did was issue a warning. Reports during that time period suggest nary a single ticket was issued.

Which brings me to this: If passed, don’t expect our public beach personnel to enforce this. And don’t expect dollar one of tax money to go toward it. What we’re talking about is a symbolic ban that will hopefully send a message to the rude jerks and will have to be policed by you and me. So, start to brush up on your convincing zingers you’ll need to deliver to those who believe they’re above what the populace wants.

“So, I see you’re in a hurry to meet your maker,” was one suggestion on the Internet, where smoking-related jokes run rampant.

(As a side note, I liked “Did you hear about the guy who got cancer off just one long puff of a cigarette? What a drag!” Or, “I Googled cigarette lighters, but all I found were 15,000 matches.”)

Full disclosure, before we continue … I must say I miss the beach bonfires I enjoyed as a kid. And I do have a cat named Smokey. And I did name my first camel Joe. You’ll feel better to know that, as I became more environmentally conscious, I named my second camel Humpty Dumpty and my third one Engelbert Humperdinck.

Indeed, nowadays I’ll do much of anything to see our beaches cigarette-butt free. Especially in the wake of the issues with water quality. There have been many a time I have watched my kids dig through the sand while building a castle, only to find a filter. One time my daughter put one on top. “Look Dad, a chimney!”

My family actually took pictures of me back in the early ’90s confronting two adult women who had both tossed their butts in the Gulf on Siesta Key. They told me they were from New Jersey and back home “everybody did it.”

For years, I wanted to go to New Jersey and reciprocate (I’d probably receive a parade and a key to the city). Kind of like George Costanza flying to Akron to deliver a comeback line (Google “Jerk Store” episode).

But alas, I have since learned that New Jersey last year established a beach-smoking ban of its own. The fine is a whopping $250.

Since when are Jersey people offended by anything? (Google “Snookie”).

Back home, this past summer while swimming off Indian Shores my son and I saw two guys smoking cigars while wading chest deep during a beautiful sunset. Sure enough, minutes later, something brushes up against me. It was a soggy stogie, but at first glance that’s not what it looked like at all. (Google “pool scene” from Caddyshack).

It made me wonder. Really, how bad is smoking litter here on Pinellas beaches?

Ken Hautmann, general manager at Caddy’s on the Beach on Treasure Island, says it’s plenty bad. Cigarette litter is what he calls his “No. 1 issue.”

“We sponsor a quarterly beach-wide cleanup with the local Sunset Beach Civic Association and it’s by far the most prevalent form of debris that we find. It’s unreal,” he said.

His area is home to the clever “No-butts-left-behind” anti-litter signs which that group erected along the beach, but still the problem persists. Is Hautmann in favor of an official ban?

“Not a ban, because I don’t think it will help. I think it’s about educating,” he said. “I think it’s time that we act as adults and take care of our own garbage. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

“All I know is what I see is incredibly rude.”

His establishment is the same place that banned the sea-life-unfriendly plastic straws. Now, not only does Caddy’s not offer them unless you’re willing to pay $1, the staff explains to customers the danger of their use.

Somehow, I should be coming up with some sort of “straw that broke the camel’s back” line here, but I don’t have it in me.

Ah yes, education. Can we somehow bring back C. Everett Koop, hand him a bullhorn, and fight back with some noise pollution?

No, I’m convinced smokers don’t care. All that’s left to do is enact a ban and shove it down their throats.

It may be tough for them to swallow, but it most likely already is.

John Morton can be reached at Jmorton@TBNweekly.com.