Gulfport will no longer issue citations for beach smoking

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Gulfport City Council overturned a beach smoking ban this week that had been in place for more than a year.

"Being on the beach with so much wind, I don't even see how it's really an issue," beachgoer and smoker Traci Johnson said.

On Tuesday, the Gulfport City Council voted unanimously to overturn the beach smoking ban that was enacted in November 2011. Mayor Michael Yakes said a lawsuit and a Sarasota judge's recent ruling on a similar ordinance factored into the vote.

"There was a court decision out of the Sarasota area," Yakes said. "The judge ruled it was unconstitutional for cities to make that determination."

Attorney Andy Strickland said the Sarasota judge's ruling set a persuasive precedent for his pro se lawsuit that he filed against Gulfport.

“It was a one-page well-reasoned decision that basically said that localities are preempted from regulating outdoor smoking in the State of Florida," Strickland said.

While the ban was in effect, Strickland organized smoking protests and was given two tickets. The attorney said when the city agreed to work with him on amending their outdoor smoking ordinance, he dropped the lawsuit.

“If you don’t like somebody smoking on a breezy beach, just move or wait a couple of seconds until the breeze changes," Strickland said. "I don’t think folks want to be micromanaged to that degree.”

Yakes acknowledged Strickland's role in the process.

"This friendly amendment, I recognize him as being that fair and reasonable person," Yakes said.

Some non-smokers soaking up the sun on the beach Friday afternoon said they believed the smoking ban was a stretch.

"Give us freedom, let us use our common sense and move if you don't like it," Lydia Fries said. "Let them have the right to smoke."

“There’s a lot of fresh air out here," Morgan Wujkowski said. "Obviously, second-hand smoke is a problem, but this space seems pretty big."

The ordinance still bans smoking at playground parks, athletic fields and the rec center.

Yakes said he hopes the Florida Legislature passes Senate Bill 258, which gives local governments the power to make outdoor smoking laws.

"This is good legislation," he said. "There was a tremendous amount of cigarette butts, but the issue we had was ... second hand smoke."

Strickland said passage of that legislation would turn Florida into a "nanny state."

“It’s about the size and scope of government," he said. "It’s about empowering the individual to make their own choices and decisions."