So Gulfport wants to make its beach nonsmoking. I vacillate back and forth on the issue, between cheering wholeheartedly and then debating the civil liberties end of it, but as of this week, I think I’m in favor of the ban. I am just not in favor of it for any of the reasons people are giving at council. Those of you playing the home game? Don’t let ‘em fool you; I don’t think those people favor the ban for the reasons they give, either.
The reason I hear for the proposed ban is litter. Cigarette butts are litter. True enough, and, I’ll add, pretty disgusting litter at that. Proponents of the smoking ban say that banning cigarettes on the beach will stop the cigarette butt litter. Only councilman Sam Henderson followed the discussions about under-enforcement of current litter ordinances to their logical conclusion and asked how the city intended to enforce the smoking ban when they weren’t effectively enforcing current litter ordinances.
I agree with the councilman there. I think it’s ridiculous to ban smoking because it’s a litter problem.
No, I think we should ban smoking for health reasons. Of course, we haven’t heard this argument. It’s Gulfport; we’re all about live and let live, right? We go about our happy, quirky way, and if people want to engage in behaviors that will kill them, well, who are we to stop them, yes?
Except that isn’t really who we are anymore. We’ve taken to the streets and started the process of demanding a community standard. So we’re more “live and let live, as long as your life looks good on the block next to my life.”
That’s not what this column is about, though. It’s about smoking. And while I disagree with the arguments used in this process of criminalizing smoking, I do agree that secondhand smoke is vile and toxic and I really love the idea of being able to go to a beach and not smell someone else’s ashtray aroma. I wish St. Pete Beach would ban smoking on the beach, but they won’t. They lack the...let’s call it courage... to risk angering tourists. Thankfully, in Gulfport, that’s totally not a concern.
As an ex-smoker who was actually pretty obnoxious about smoking, I have to ask, what’s the big deal about outlawing smoking on the beach? When I smoked I accepted that it was an ugly habit and that the tide had turned in polite society; I never argued about smoking on planes or in a store. I may have made the tired joke – repeatedly – ”hey, if you don’t like it, don’t breathe!” but at the end of the day, I hated the smell of smoke so much I wouldn’t smoke in my own house.
Now, before you argue that my house or a store was private property, I would remind you that smokers already can’t light up inside city hall or on school grounds. Those are both tax-supported public places, so what's the big deal about outlawing it at another facility (the beach) where everyone's money goes towards upkeep?
Ah, I can hear the civil liberties arguments now. They don’t hold water. It’s like this: we have freedom of speech, but try yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre and see how fast you get arrested. It’s the same thing: you can’t exercise your freedoms if they endanger mine.
Here are a few more thoughts about our personal freedoms:
*It's not illegal to drink. You can't drink on the beach. No one says we're taking away civil liberties when you can't bring a bottle of wine down and watch the sunset.
*Nudity is also not illegal. Try that on the beach and then tell me how you like having to register with the local PD every time you move. No one's complaining about that one, either.
*It's not illegal to walk your dog, but god forbid I try and take Calypso down to the beach for a run. Council decided THAT wouldn't fly pretty damn quick.
Look, smokers, I get that you're tired of being shut out of places. I'm sorry that apparently every single smoker I’ve heard from is “responsible” and NEVER litters with their discarded cigarettes. I don’t care; it’s not about that for me. For me, it’s a health issue. I quit because I don’t want smoke killing me.
You see, no matter what you say I will never agree that you are not infringing on MY civil liberties by crapping up a public beach with your smoke. I quit smoking because I watched my grandmother suffocate from emphysema after smoking on the sly for years. I quit because I didn’t want to go that way.
I quit with the assistance of modern pharmacopoeia. It, to put it plainly, sucked. Please don’t nullify my efforts with some argument about civil liberties.
Smoke away, I say. After all, it’s still Gulfport.
Just not on the beach.