GULFPORT — The decision to ban smoking on the beach and on playgrounds was not an easy one to make in this city that holds personal freedoms so near and dear.
But after discussing the issue — both as a litter problem and a health issue — and hearing from residents in three meetings, City Council voted unanimously to put an end to smoking on Gulfport Beach, athletic fields and playgrounds.
The vote came after almost two hours of discussion at Tuesday's City Council meeting, including rare presentations from Teen Council members and a dramatic rejection of arguments against the ban that put personal freedoms over health concerns.
"We think the best solution would be to make half the beach smoking free," Nolan Sloan, Teen Council president, said in an attempt to find a compromise between smokers and nonsmokers.
As it turns out, the council later voted to define the "beach" as the 848 feet running from the west side of the casino to the east side of Dupont Street S.
The area the teens suggested for the smoking area of the beach — the waterfront between the pier and the casino — can be just that because it's not included in the city's definition of its beach.
Elizabeth Brown-Worthington, Teen Council secretary, agreed with Nolan that it's hard to take away someone's rights but was also concerned about enforcement.
"Unless there is a constant watch on the beach, it will be hard to enforce," she said.
The enforcement, City Manager Jim O'Reilly said, will be of the benevolent sort with added no-smoking signs and police officers warning smokers.
Al Davis, a resident of 45th Street S. and a battle-scarred cancer survivor, gave a candid plea.
"This is a feeding tube," Davis said, holding up a clear tube he pulled from under his clothes.
"This is how I eat; this is what keeps me going.
"This is from cancer," he said.
"If you want the freedom to eat from a feeding tube, then you should just leave it (the proposed smoking ban) alone," he said.
The ban, effective immediately, has a provision requiring the council to look at it again in a year to see if it has served the city's purposes.