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Up in smoke? Ocean City ponders ban on beach smoking

Ocean City announced last week it will crack down on profanity on the boardwalk, but the city council is also considering banning another public vice — smoking on the beach.

Mayor Rick Meehan said smoking came up as one of the council's three priorities in its planning process for work sessions next month. (The other two were a tax differential between the city and Worcester County, and downtown redevelopment.)

"It's been talked about for a number of years," Meehan said, pointing out the environmental problem of cigarette butts littering the sand as well as smoking's health issues.

Meehan supports a tobacco-free Ocean City, but he said proper enforcement and alternatives will be key to making that happen. It's a contentious issue, and the process of debate and voting will take at least a month, he said. So, while he expects a vote in "the near future," that might not be this summer.

"This is all part of a lengthy conversation," he said. "It's 2014. We all realize the issues that are involved. We want to be fair to everybody and allow areas for smokers."

Other beach areas' strategies for implementing such policies will likely advise the process. If the ban were to extend to the boardwalk, businesses and hotels on the stretch will have a say, Meehan said. Determining necessary enforcement and penalties will be another hurdle.

In his experience, residents are divided on the issue, Meehan said, but "for the most part, people are in favor" of a smoking ban.

"We want to take everyone's concerns into consideration," he said.

Meehan said the issue will likely be raised at the city council's next work session on April 16.

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