When Gulfport Vice Mayor David Hastings took part in a beach cleanup back in July, one thing stood out in his mind that continues to bother him months later: the abundance of cigarette butts littering the beach. Just how bad was it? Hastings estimates while walking during the cleanup, “90% of what was being picked up was cigarette butts.”
In an attempt to rid this eyesore, not to mention the possible hazards the butts could present to children, pets or wildlife, the vice mayor set to work with the city staff to craft a proposed ordinance designed to ban smoking on the beach. The proposed ordinance is now going-up for discussion at a City Council Workshop, Thursday, September 22, 2011, at 3:30 p.m. at Gulfport City Hall.
The ordinance calls for there to be a designated smoking area, perhaps as Hastings is thinking, in the parking lot adjacent to the beach. “Once they (the smokers) step on the sidewalk and start heading for the beach,” Hastings explained, that would be the beginning of the ban area for cigarette smoking or the use of any tobacco products. Although Hastings is an oral cancer survivor, he noted that this ordinance isn’t motivated by his medical history, but his desire to see an end to “the thousands of cigarette butts on the beach,” such as he witnessed during the cleanup project.
While not everyone on the Council has publicly voiced his or her position on this proposed ordinance, at least one member has, that being Council Member Sam Henderson. Henderson, who has been a smoker on and off for years, and has currently stopped smoking, trying to kick the habit, agrees with the vice mayor that there are too many cigarette butts on the beach, but he is concerned about “people’s rights.” He is also particularly “irritated” with the vice mayor’s recent statement that, “All smokers are litter bugs.” Henderson says in his many years of smoking he has always properly disposed of his cigarettes. However, he does agree with Hastings that many people presently smoking on the beach are not utilizing the receptacle cans available for their butts.
What Henderson is especially concerned about in regards to the proposed ordinance is that it is too narrow in its focus. He said if the intent is to do a better job of cleaning up the city then “let’s pass a stronger litter law that addresses all kinds of litter not just cigarette butts.” When told Vice Mayor Hastings was for a more substantial fine for cigarette butt littering, perhaps as high as $200, Henderson said he would be okay with that, provided the ordinance with this new substantially higher fee would be for any kind of litter violation. The current fine for littering in the city is $97.
One community, which has had great success with a smoking ban on the beach ordinance for the past several years, is Sarasota County. According to Carolyn Brown, interim general manager for Parks and Recreation in that county, the ordinance has been so well-received local cities there are following suit.
“Both the city of Venice and the city of Sarasota have adopted their own no smoking ordinances for beaches within the municipalities.” And she added, “I have no knowledge of any past or recent efforts to have the ordinance overturned. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for enforcing the ordinance. Although I don’t have an exact number, but a lot of citations have been issued.”
The bottom line for Sarasota County’s ordinance is that she believes the majority of people have complied and as a result since its passage back in late 2007, the amount of cigarette butts on any of the county park beaches has substantially diminished. Like the city of Gulfport’s current fine for littering, the Sarasota County’s citation for beach littering is $97.
On a more local level, another municipality in Pinellas County, which is likely to bring up the idea of passing a smoking ban for its beach parks is the city of Indian Rocks Beach. However, City Manager Charles Coward says he expects any discussion about such an ordinance to be put out pretty quickly. Why? Because Florida Law, he stated, prevents local governments from enacting such ordinances.
Yet, this obviously hasn’t stopped other municipalities. Could Gulfport be next? Stay tuned.