GULFPORT — He was sweating profusely that Saturday morning, a hat keeping the sun off his face as he scooped up trash along 49th Street with other Gulfport Neighbors volunteers.
Bend down, pick up a cigarette butt.
Bend down, pick up a plastic cup.
Bend down, pick up dozens of cigarette butts.
City Council member — and oral cancer survivor — David Hastings had had enough.
"I see cigarette butts in my sleep now. Ninety percent of what we see is cigarette butts," Hastings said.
So, last week, the vice mayor asked the council to consider an ordinance banning cigarettes on the city's beach, in its parks and in other public areas except in designated smoking areas.
"We are not alone. In the state of Florida, 51 municipalities have some nonsmoking ordinance or resolution in place," Hastings said.
State law has banned smoking in enclosed workplaces, restaurants and public places since July 1, 2003. Bars are exempt.
"The state board of health will provide no-smoking signs free of charge," Hastings said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17.5 percent of the over-18 population in Florida smokes. That's a little over 2.5 million people.
The national median is 18.4 percent. Florida ranks 18th among states.
Council member Sam Henderson was a little apprehensive.
"It needs discussion. I don't want to take away people's rights," he said.
But Hastings argued, "It's time. We can't have our beaches and parks littered with cigarette butts. They don't go away."
There's a snag. 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."
Other cities and counties, though, have passed ordinances in spite of this — including Sarasota County, which prohibits smoking on its beaches.
Hastings is on a mission.
"We don't think it's constitutional for the state to do this," he said. "There have been legal opinions that if ever challenged, the state would lose. There have been attempts to get the state to change, but for one reason or another, it hasn't advanced. The cities are saying, 'How dare you?' to the state. 'What gives you the right to say we can't look out for the citizens in our community?' "
The council is expected to discuss the matter at an upcoming workshop.