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Gulfport moves to ban smoking on beach, fields, playgrounds

GULFPORT — Smokers would be wise to refrain from lighting up on Gulfport's beach.

The cost of that cigarette could be $97 if the City Council enacts an ordinance that passed on the first reading Tuesday.

The ordinance prohibits smoking on the beach, athletic fields and playgrounds.

"The fine is based on Pinellas County," said Andrew Salzman, city attorney.

The city followed the county's local ordinance schedule of fines, said City Manager Jim O'Reilly. That's the fine for a Class 1 local ordinance violation.

O'Reilly said there will be benevolent enforcement of the ordinance — at least in the beginning.

"The first time, we'll ask them to put it out," O'Reilly said. "We'll do that until the public is educated."

Smoking will be banned on the beach between the Gulfport Casino and the seawall behind the recreation center at Dupont Street, including the adjacent grassy picnic area and parking lot, O'Reilly said.

"East of the casino is not public beach area," he said.

"We're not looking to regulate Veterans Park or Tomlinson Park, just the beach."

However, the smoking ban will include baseball fields, basketball courts, the skate park and all outdoor children's play areas.

The ordinance passed unanimously even though Florida law prevents local governments from enacting smoke-free regulations: "This legislation expressly pre-empts regulation of smoking to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject."

Salzman reassured the council that he has seen no litigation on the matter.

Council member Sam Henderson questioned the antismoking measure when it was brought up by Vice Mayor David Hastings in August, but he reluctantly voted for passage.

"There's a fine line between protecting people's rights to do something outdoors and protecting others who don't want to be subjected to what they're doing," he said.

Although it was the litter caused by discarded cigarette butts that prompted Hastings to propose the measure, everyone agreed that the smoking ban will only marginally address the litter problem.

It's about public health.

"We're not addressing the litter problem, only a portion of the litter problem," Henderson said. Most cigarette butts wash up on the beach from the bay.

In other business, the council:

• Approved, 4-1, on first reading, the hiring of a special magistrate to hold hearings and assess fines against city code violators. Jennifer Salmon was the lone "no" vote.

• Unanimously approved allowing police Chief Robert Vincent to use $2,000 of contraband forfeiture funds to implement physical standards for officers. He said he'll use it to build an obstacle course based on a Florida Department of Law Enforcement model that is being used by the sheriff and the Highway Patrol. Vincent said the biggest chunk of the money — $900 — will buy a "drag dummy," a doll of human size and weight used to train rescue personnel.

A final vote will be taken on the ordinances Nov. 1.

Gulfport moves to ban smoking on beach, fields, playgrounds 10/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 5:48pm]
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