Smoking restrictions on Ocean City's beach and Boardwalk will take effect May 1, and will include electronic cigarettes, according to the latest round of policy deliberations by resort officials.
"We recognized from the very beginning that this is a value-based policy discussion, where Ocean City is not going to please everybody, no matter what we do. But we need to do what is best for Ocean City as a whole," said City Manager David Recor at the Town Council's Jan. 5 meeting.
While some council members voiced their desire for an outright smoking ban, the council's eventual decision was, at this point, to stick with the proposed plan for having designated smoking areas on the beach and Boardwalk entry platforms. It's a compromise that caters to the estimated 17 percent of Ocean City tourists who smoke, officials said.
Enforcement of smoking regulations will have to be "self-policed," according to Recor.
"Will we haul people off to jail for smoking on the Boardwalk? No, that's not our approach," he said. "We expect people who visit Ocean City to acknowledge and respect local rules and regulations. We don't expect to take a heavy hand, but expect visitors to self-police themselves."
David R. Etheridge, of Hebron, says he has no problem with the restrictions. He favors the idea that smokers should have to walk back to the dune paths, away from sitting beach goers, to light up.
"Most areas of OC's beaches are packed," he said. "Why should anyone, especially a family with small children and infants, and especially if they had set up their beach camp first, have to endure cigar or cigarette blowing in their faces all day?"
Town officials estimate that roughly 700,000 out of Ocean City's 8 million annual visitors are smokers. Every night in the summer, Public Works crews man giant machines that sift discarded cigarette butts from the beach sand and Boardwalk planks.
Citing those related clean-up costs, as well as public health concerns, resort officials in April decided to brainstorm where they might put designated smoking areas. Resort leaders also said they took into consideration similar smoking policies popping up in neighboring resort towns like Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach.
Forming The Policy
Town officials formed an internal committee to talk through the issue, and lay eyes on the actual areas where ashtrays might go. There also was extensive public outreach to give the tourists and business owners alike a chance to comment. They decided on a start date for those restrictions of summer 2015.
If you smoke e-cigarettes, you're not exempt.
Council members all agreed, unofficially, that the ban would encompass vaping. According to Recor, extensive research shows that Electronic Smoking Devices could prove harmful when it comes to secondhand smoke exposure.
"There are so many people who use those, they are very quick to tell you that it's water vapor," said Councilman Wayne Hartman. "I didn't mind them being around me until I read this information. So, it's definitely not water vapor. I encourage everybody to research for themselves that's included in that."
And, for anyone who expects they'll just complain to lifeguards about smokers who ignore the new beach rules, you're out of luck. Lifeguards are supposed to keep their eyes on the ocean, and won't be asked or expected to enforce smoking regulations, according to the city manager.
Where To Smoke
The plan calls for putting dozens of orange metal barrels along the town's 10 miles of beaches, which will serve as receptacles for discarded butts. Smoking will be restricted to within 15 feet of each 22-gallon barrel.
Specifically, the plan calls for 38 barrels from the Inlet to 28th Street, 58 barrels from 28th Street to 85th Street, and 50 barrels from 86th Street to 146th Street. It also calls for replacement of beach entry signs on oceanfront street ends, including a message that reflects the new smoking restrictions.
Implementation of the plan would cost $40,000 for materials and supplies. Costs would be subsidized by a $18,762 grant from the Maryland Cancer Fund and a $19,345 grant from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Asking beach-goers to use the designated ashtrays could have an immediate positive environmental impact, according to Marty Pusey with the Worcester County Health Department. She said studies show that smoking-related debris account for 38 percent of debris collected from beaches, rivers, and streams.
Where to place ashtrays on the Boardwalk also was a point of contention. The plan calls for putting 15 knee-high stone ashtrays, every few blocks along the 2.25-mile Boardwalk, on the wooden platforms leading from the boards to the beach.
Councilman Wayne Hartman, whose home is directly on the Boardwalk, says he's concerned that smoking areas would be placed at any beach entry points.
"What we're doing is encouraging – or mandating – that families drag their kids through the crowd of smoke, as opposed to possibly randomly passing somebody on the Boardwalk," he said. "I really see this as a detriment to what we're trying to accomplish."
Councilwoman Mary Knight noted how designated smoking areas would be located immediately next to beach stand operators, leaving the teens and 20-somethings who work the rental stand continuously exposed to secondhand smoke.
People got used to no smoking in restaurants and bars, and they'll get used to this in the same way, said Council President Lloyd Martin.
"Everybody's saying the same thing, we just wanna get there," he said. "We want to do it the same way, together, so we have one voice out there. We just have to get them used to what they're going to do on the beach." - delmarvanow