Smoking restrictions on tap for Ocean City next summer

Ocean City officials voted earlier this week to draft a law to restrict smoking on the beach and boardwalk beginning May 1, 2015.

The proposed ordinance, which passed on a 4-3 vote at a work session for the town council on Tuesday, identifies a number of designated areas for smoking along the boardwalk and on the beach.

Police will be responsible for enforcement of the law through verbal as well as written citations ranging from $25 to $1,000, a "worse-case scenario" for non-compliance.

The law would apply to tobacco products only, not electronic or E-cigarettes.

"Our concern first and foremost is environmental. We want to keep our beaches clean," said Jessica Waters, Ocean City communications manager. "We certainly have the health concerns about smoke and secondhand smoke, but we want to make sure we don't alienate our visitors."

A report from the planning department presented at Tuesday's meeting outlined the proposed law and presented research showing a generally favorable opinion on restricting smoking regulations.

In June, the town asked for input on its website about the potential for such restrictions and received 37 comments, of which 30 were supportive. Also, a survey taken by the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association found 60 percent of respondents favored smoking regulations.

The proposed law would set up receptacles on the boardwalk, positioned primarily on the eastern side, south of 7th Street, according to the report, while north of 7th Street, the receptacles would be located at the street's end.

On the beach, officials would place about more than 150 red 22-gallon metal ash cans "at each street intersecting the beach [and] near entry points on the east side of the dune." In addition, signs would be placed on lifeguard stands to explain the new regulations. Beachgoers would be allowed to smoke within 50 feet of a beach receptacle.

The cost of implementing the new law - including about $10,000 to purchase the receptacles - is estimated at $17,000 to $20,000, according to the report.

Councilman Brent Ashley, who voted against the ordinance, said he did so because it doesn't go far enough. Ashley favors an outright ban on smoking on the beach and boardwalk.

"I think vacationers are looking for pristine beaches," said Ashley, adding that some 200 beaches across the nation are smoke-free. "To me it's confusing and convoluted. What my colleagues are talking about is making it a partially pristine beach."

Rehoboth Beach, Bethany and Fenwick, Ocean City's neighbors to the north, all have some sort of restriction on smoking. Earlier this spring, Rehoboth banned smoking on the boardwalk entirely.

But Waters said officials wanted a moderate approach. "We're trying to find a balance between smoking visitors and non-smoking visitors," she said. "It's important for us to accommodate all visitors."

Ashley said he believes the town's beaches and boardwalk will ultimately end up smoke-free in the near future and he is skeptical of spending money on receptacles and signs for a short-term solution.

"The smoke-free beach ship has sailed and we're still standing on the dock," he said.

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