OCEAN CITY – Bethany Beach, Del. will soon be seeing a smoking ban along its beaches and Boardwalk, a restriction that would be difficult to enforce along Ocean City’s 10-mile stretch of beach, officials say.
Smoking prohibitions seem to be increasing as of late, with talk of smoking bans in certain apartment complexes around the country, proposed legislation in Maryland to prohibit smoking in cars carrying children and the decision to ban smoking along Bethany’s beaches and boardwalk.
Feb. 1 marked the beginning of the restaurant and bar smoking ban in Ocean City, pushing smokers outdoors to huddle in designated smoking areas. The increase of “no smoking” initiatives, particularly along beaches just 15 miles north of Ocean City, leaves many wondering if Ocean City’s beaches will become the next “smoke free” area in the resort town.
The Bethany Beach town council voted last week to draft smoking prohibitions for the beach and Boardwalk, which would ultimately ban smoking during the summer months in those areas. Smokers will be limited to eight sections of the beach and Boardwalk in an effort to keep smoke away from families, particularly children.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin weighed in on the issue this week, noting the logistical difficulties that would make a smoking ban along the beach difficult to enforce.
“If it was as simple as waving a magic wand and then it’s done, then maybe, but logistically and operationally, it would be very difficult,” said Arbin.
A smoking ban along the beach would take a significant increase in enforcement, according to Arbin, who noted the 10 miles of public beach that the Ocean City Beach Patrol guards.
“It would be a major undertaking,” Arbin said, explaining that in a community like Bethany Beach, where there is a controlled access beach, getting the word out on a smoking ban is more feasible than in Ocean City.
“We have a very open beach here, where people park and walk onto the beach oftentimes without ever stepping foot into a hotel or restaurant. How do you let those people know there’s no smoking on the beach and then how do you enforce it?” Arbin questioned.
Drinking alcohol on the beach is prohibited in Ocean City, and although lifeguards take every effort to enforce that rule, it’s violated year after year by beachgoers.
“We’ve had an ordinance against alcohol for my whole 36 years I’ve been here and we still have people that drink on the beach and think that its okay,” said Arbin.
While members of the Ocean City Beach Patrol keep their eyes on the beach as well as the ocean, Arbin feels that adding another ordinance for lifeguards to enforce could become too burdensome.
“There’s a lot of manpower that would be necessary to enforce an ordinance like that. We couldn’t do that and do the job that we already do. We’d have to add more manpower,” Arbin said. “If you enact a law that you can’t enforce, to me it’s not the best way to go.”
Arbin said that several organizations have contacted him over the past few years hoping to gain his support of legislation that would ban smoking on the beaches in Ocean City, but due to the logistics he has never been able to give his support.
Arbin noted that while the idea is a good one in theory and one that could work in the future when smoking prohibitions have taken a more natural progression, it is not something that could work today.
“There’s a lot of people that smoke on the beach. It’s a public beach, and because it’s a public area, most people would assume they could smoke. For right now, it would be a tremendous uphill battle,” he said.
One of the sticking points of the decision to ban smoking in Bethany Beach was the abundance of cigarette butts that inevitably end up in the sand, a problem that Arbin said isn’t as prominent in Ocean City, where a no-littering ordinance is strictly enforced. The “leave only your footprints” campaign, daily beach clean-up and lifeguard enforcement has kept butts to a minimum, according to Arbin.
Council President Joe Mitrecic agreed that the priority for the beach patrol is to keep their eyes on the water.
“I think the most important thing is that our beach patrol are watching the surf,” he said.
As for the City Council, Mitrecic said there has been no discussion of a smoking ban along our beaches or Boardwalk.
“We haven’t had any great public outcry about smoking on the beach or the boardwalk,” he said.
Mitrecic also pointed out the efforts taken by the local Surfrider Foundation to keep the beach clean with its “leave your butts on the beach” campaign.
“They do a great job trying to make people aware that that’s not proper etiquette,” Mitrecic said.
As for any future smoking bans, “I guess we’re all really watching what’s happening in Bethany and how things go for them.”