Health News

A smoking ban was passed in Gulfport 10 years ago. Is the rest of the Coast as strict?

 A sign lets motorists know that Dolly's is now smokeless, Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD A sign lets motorists know that Dolly's is now smokeless, Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2016.

It's been 10 years since the City of Gulfport passed a controversial ban on smoking in most public places.

And while most of South Mississippi is committed to smoke-free public environments, other cities on the Gulf Coast don't have policies that are as strict as Gulfport's ordinance.

The Gulfport law bans smoking at most public places, including restaurants, office buildings, retail businesses, taxicabs, and all city-owned facilities, including athletic fields and fishing piers.

Smokers still have a few places where lighting up is legal: some parts of casinos, 20 percent of hotel rooms and barrooms.

Smoking is banned in a business when at least 15 percent of the sales is food. Bona fide barrooms, which sell only alcohol, are exempt.

Then-Councilman Brian Carriere helped write the ordinance that was passed by the City Council on March 18, 2008. The law went into effect on May 1, 2008.

Today, smoke-free environments are common across the Coast — even casinos have jumped on the bandwagon. Island View Casino is opening a smoke-free casino addition on the beachfront near the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport. Palace Casino in Biloxi is also smoke free.

However, not all cities in South Mississippi are as strict as Gulfport.

Smokers are permitted to light up in outdoor areas at restaurants in Biloxi, for example, and there are a still a few places that serve food and allow you to smoke inside, like the iconic Project Lounge.

In Bay St. Louis, smokers have similar options as Biloxi, and many of the new restaurants have indoor-outdoor seating so smokers can grab a table for food, drinks and puffing on cigarettes. Barrooms in both cities are still able to let smokers light up inside.

Most recently, many Kiln residents were shocked when Dolly's Quick Stop banned smoking from inside the store. The convenience store has a deli and kitchen and is a popular lunch spot. Before they banned smoking in 2016, people could light up at tables inside the store.

Store manager Kacey Peterson said the ban was enacted so non-smokers would be more comfortable coming in for lunch and sitting down to enjoy their meal. The smoke was so heavy at times, people with young children were weary of coming in the store, Peterson said.

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TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Dakota Jackson smokes outside of the front door of Dolly's in Kiln, Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2016. Dolly's has gone smokeless.

At the time, smokers had a lot to say about the new ordinance.

"The city should let them have a smoking area, but we can adjust," said Gulfport merchant marine Jay Lorenzo in 2008 while puffing on a cigarette at Hooters restaurant on U.S. 49.

Some businesses were concerned about what the smoking ban would do to their bottom lines, but Hooters Operations Director Peter Meleones didn't expect the ban to hurt sales. Hooters in Gulfport is still open for business 10 years later, while a second location that was opened in Biloxi closed it's doors and was replaced with another restaurant.

At the time the ordinance was passed, Coast restauranteur Bob Taylor, who then owned High Cotton Grill locations in Gulfport and D'Iberville, was annoyed with they city's implementation strategy of the ordinance.

"It kind of bothers me that nobody from the city has communicated with us about what we're supposed to do," he said in 2008. "You would think they would send out letters or e-mails with instructions or something."

Taylor now has Half Shell restaurants in Gulfport and Biloxi and the Rackhouse in downtown Gulfport. All of Taylor's restaurants on the Coast are smoke free.

Some of this story was first reported by the Sun Herald in May 2008.