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Protesters Light Up at 'Smoke In' on Gulfport Beach

A handful of people lit up at Gulfport Beach in protest of the city's smoking ban. A St. Pete attorney had hoped to get cited and challenge the ban in court.

Despite the yellow "Tobacco Free Area" signs posted at the Gulfport Beach, several smokers lit up their cigars and pipes Saturday morning.

"I think that we have to protect what little rights we do have as smokers period," Rossi Bonugli said.

Bonugli came out to support the peaceful protest. He's been a cigar smoker most of his life and believes a ban on the beach is "going too far."

"I understand not smoking inside, not smoking in restaurants, but no smoking on the beach? You've got to be kidding."

Bonugli heard about the "smoke in" protest from St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland. Strickland organized the demonstration and planned to receive a citation for violating the city's no smoking ordinance.

"It takes people to stand up for something that they believe in. I'm looking forward to challenging it after I get cited," Strickland said.

Strickland wants to challenge the citation in Pinellas County Court because he says the city does not have the authority to ban smoking on the beach. He says according to a Florida Statute, the regulation of smoking is up to the state, not local governments.

Florida Statute 386.209

Regulation of smoking preempted to state. This part expressly preempts regulation of smoking to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject; however, school districts may further restrict smoking by persons on school district property.

"There's a specific reason why the state Legislature put this preemption clause in the Clean Indoor Act of '85, which was reaffirmed by Florida voters in 2002 when it was amended. Clearly, it gives the state exclusive jurisdiction over this issue it's because we don't want piecemeal ordinances where you can smoke on this beach and this beach."

Despite Strickland's efforts, the demonstration did not go as planned. Due to the lack of proper signage on the beach, Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent previously advised officers not to ticket smokers.

In an interview with Gulfport Patch on Friday, Vincent said several yellow "Tobacco Free Area" signs are posted, but the large brown signs that list the ordinances and other bans on the beach are not updated yet. For now, he's advised officers to warn people of the new ordinance and document that a person has been warned.

During the demonstration a Gulfport Police officer patrolled the beach but did not write any citations.

Strickland plans to hold another "smoke in" once the proper signs are in place.

"When does this type of regulation and big brother stuff come to an end?" Strickland said.

Philip Penrose January 18, 2012 at 12:40 AM
CJ - Understand NONE of my comments were directed to you...they were just in general. By the way - I am innocent of nothing! ;)
Mr. Fish January 18, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Dear mtober! Perhaps you should read the above mention Florida Statute and see that the protestors are right, The city does not have the authority to pass smoking laws. Litter yes. Smoking no. So once again the city attorney has led the city council astray and in all probability the ordinance will be found in violation of Florida Statutes and declared null and void, if the city chooses to defend it. In all probability they will since its a few extra bucks for the attorneys, they would most likely lose in court. But if the city council wants to say they have hometown rule on this issue. The courts will decide. And the citizens and the city budget will lose. Read the whole Florida Statute 386 regarding Tobacco.
CJ January 18, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Every point you make is valid until the Statute is changed. This same tactic has been used in other States to slow down the smoking bans until sooner or later they will pass laws that ''will '' stick. It still does not make the present laws useless, though. It will not be cheap for people to fight these tickets. Even if they win..which they very well may...it could end up being ''very'' expensive for them..and the city will still make money. The smokers will win the battle, but lose the war. Even if a smoking ban violator is a lawyer himself, it will be costly to him with his own time. This make these laws a very strong deterant. Personally, I don't expect to see a lot of people getting tickets for smoking unless they are trying very hard to do so. Littering, though, is different. There will be tickets for littering...and they are possibly going to cost violators a lot more than just the amount of the fines if they use a lawyer, time off work, etc. Let's not forget. It is not just smokers that are littering. the other litter is really terrible also. I think the focus is smokers litter is letting the other litter bugs off the hook too much.. Boy...would I just love to see more of these people who thrown entire fast foods bags out on the ground ticketed and/or arrested.
Jason Nofi April 18, 2012 at 06:31 PM
It's obviously very selfish for anyone to smoke near other people, whether it be on the beach, in the street or anywhere else at that matter. Tobacco kills people. Second hand smoke is worse then first hand.People who smoke know this but they do what they do anyway. If your allergic to honey, am i going to put honey in your tea? It's not right to be passive about hurting other people. People that don't have compassion for the well being and health of other people (especially children) are not very nice people. In other words, if you want to hurt yourself that's fine but at least have enough compassion to not hurt others in the process. Very selfish and prideful to do otherwise.
Peter J Dunlay April 19, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Trying to legislate common decency simply doesn't work. I am a (pipe) smoker. I never smoke indoors and I always make certain that my smoking doesn't offend anyone around me no matter where I choose to smoke. That alone should be sufficient!

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