Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan created a stir last week when he addressed the possibility of an outright smoking ban on the beach, saying, “It is time to take the next step. It is time to move forward progressively to attack this problem.”
This is not a new issue for Ocean City. Two years ago, the Mayor and Council held a public hearing to discuss a ban on smoking on the beach, Boardwalk and public parks. The result of that discourse was the current council’s decision to place cigarette butt cans and signage along the beach and Boardwalk, providing smokers with quasi-smoking stations as seen in airports and shopping malls. The council did ban smoking in all municipal parks but not on the beach and Boardwalk.
During a review last week of the cigarette butt trash receptacles, the project’s success was weighed. Out of the 200 cans initially placed in Ocean City, only 136 remain. The others have been stolen or damaged and destroyed by weather. About 69,000 butts have reportedly been collected, but most on the council and in the public arena seem to agree the fact there is no mandate requiring smokers to use the receptacles and smoke around them it’s success has been marginal.
Whenever the smoking ban on the beach debate surfaces, there are two key elements — environmental consequences and public health.
On the environment front, it continues to amaze the amount of cigarette butts that are left behind on the beach. Any visit to the beach will find some butts and oftentimes many. That’s unacceptable.
Regarding public health, abundant documentation is available that second-hand smoke has major effects and there’s nothing more disturbing than having a neighboring beach-goer light up and blow smoke towards families enjoying the outdoors. It’s a problem many face routinely.
After Meehan broached the subject, the council ultimately decided to discuss the issue of instituting a smoking ban on the beach further this fall.
Whether Ocean City will join Bethany Beach as a smoke-free beach is unknown at this time, but we certainly embrace the concept of phasing in non-smoking beach streets, as suggested by Council President Jim Hall last week.
“The world has gone a long way to get rid of smoking in restaurants and bars … and I would hope one day we would try to develop at least very soon some areas that were smoke free,” said Jim Hall, referring to possibly allotting certain beach streets as smoke-free.
City Manager David Recor has been charged with searching how other beach destinations have handled smoking bans, and it will be compelling to see what precedents are out there.
It’s a worthy discussion, one that is often a hot-button issue for citizens on both sides of the debate.