Ocean City needs to quickly resolve what it wants to do with smoking on the beach and the Boardwalk.
This has been a difficult and unnecessarily complicated process for the town, and the new Mayor and Council, with its three new council members, is clearly struggling with it as was the case with the former body, which was divided 4-3 on moving forward with smoking restrictions on the beach.
At this week’s Mayor and Council meeting, specifics of what Ocean City plans as far as designated smoking stations on the beach were discussed and largely seem to be on track for approval with some more talk needed on exact locales of the smoking sites to be finalized soon.
However, confusion over what to do with the Boardwalk amounted to much discussion, resulting in the elected officials ultimately concluding they need to get on the Boardwalk as a group and review what the city staff proposed as far as specific sites where smoking would be permitted on the Boardwalk.
Ocean City needs to not overthink this matter. Ban smoking on the Boardwalk and push pedestrians to light up on the beach where the stations will be set up for beach-goers. It’s that simple.
The option of putting stone receptacles at the street ends at the beach entrances is not appropriate and we were surprised to see that even proposed. That suggestion forces beach-goers to walk through smoke with their beach gear in hand. Putting the receptacles on the west side of the boards is no good either because it puts smokers in front of businesses and residences and forces pedestrians to walk through smoke on the way to the Boardwalk.
At this week’s meeting, Council Secretary Mary Knight tried to simplify the issue for her colleagues after hearing the proposal.
“As a business owner I will now be competing with street performers and designated smoking areas, and I think that is a big deterrent for our business owners on the Boardwalk,” she said. “My thought is to just have the designated smoking areas on the beach eliminating probably a lot of costs.”
The council should simply ban smoking on the Boardwalk. There is precedent elsewhere for restrictions on open-air venues. Placing the stations on the beach with the orange drum cans is the right way to go to serve beach-goers as well as Boardwalk pedestrians. An issue raised about the elderly having trouble reaching the stations if they are mid-block can be easily addressed with some wooden walkways in high-volume areas.
If the council sees fit to go this direction, which seems reasonable to us, the question turns to enforcement. We believe the city will write the bare minimum of tickets for smoking because it will not be a priority issue. It will most likely just be a reactive matter where police respond to specific complaints rather than seeking out smokers or vapor users.
It’s a paper law, for the most part, but proper signage and marketing encouraging self-policing, common sense and self-control could go a long way toward addressing the smoke-free goals.
Whatever is decided, the council must understand people will take umbrage and be vocal in their opposition. The goal should be to craft a plan that works for the greatest majority in this case.