Council Rejects Outdoor Smoking Ban, Seeks Designated Areas

OCEAN CITY – Although an outright ban gained little traction at City Hall this week, smokers in Ocean City will soon be requested to smoke in designated areas at public places like the beach and Boardwalk.

At a public hearing during Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, a ban on smoking on Ocean City’s beaches, Boardwalk and public parks was debated.

Ocean City’s neighboring resort town, Bethany Beach, Del. is a prime example of the proposed ban. Bethany Beach passed a smoking ban on its beaches and Boardwalk in 2008. The ban lasts from May 15 to Sept. 15 every year. During that time frame, smokers are provided with designated smoking areas on Bethany’s beaches.

Last summer Bethany Beach Mayor Tony McClenny had said that the smoking ban enforced during the busy season has proven to be popular, and the town has experienced little resistance and few complaints as well as enforcement actions.

There are a handful of concerns that surround a smoking ban in Ocean City, such as the possibility that the ban will cause the town’s smoking visitors to vacation elsewhere or the town’s need to use existing public safety employees to enforce the law when they should be focusing on more critical life-safety issues.

A key word during the debate this week was “adult”. Many asserted that they have the legal right as adults to be able to smoke where they please, without having to be segregated from the non-smokers.

“I am a non-smoker…I am an adult,” 93.5 The Beach morning show co-host Matt Walsh said. “I am tired of local governments, federal governments, any kind of government treating us like were children.”

Andrew Murr, Walsh’s co-host, said that he is a smoker and that talk of bans make him feel like he’s committing an illegal crime.

“I feel like when these kind of proposals come up, I feel like a common criminal,” Murr said. “I am an upstanding citizen and I am an adult.”

Murr argued that he pays the tax rate on cigarettes, which is factored into the State of Maryland’s budget. He noted that the town is preparing to restore its Boardwalk, which could be funded by a portion of the state’s budget partially generated by cigarette tax.

“I find it rather hypocritical…that you’re going to restore this Boardwalk with money that quite frankly I paid taxes into, and then I am not allowed to be on that [Boardwalk] as a citizen that smokes,” Murr said.

Murr also asserted that by banning smoking from restaurants and bars smokers are forced to go outside.

“I don’t want to go out to a busy city street when I am in a resort town,” Murr said. “I want to be able to go out like every other citizen, and I want to enjoy the outdoors whether it is on the Boardwalk or the sand.”

Ocean City resident David Fox, credited with initiating the smoking ban discussion last summer, addressed the council discussing key arguments. He stated that 15 percent of adults in the state of Maryland smoke.

“Why should 85 percent of the adult population, plus all of the children … be subjected to second hand smoke?,” Fox said.

Fox pointed out that Ocean City takes pride in being a family resort town.

“When you have to suck in second hand smoke, and kids are sucking in second hand smoke, it’s not a family oriented resort,” Fox said.

Fox also argued the town shouldn’t be worried about loosing the revenue from smokers because of the smoking ban, but be worried about the revenue the town is loosing currently from non-smokers. The families who avoid smokers would rather vacation in smoke-free resorts like Bethany Beach. He asserted that the littering of cigarette butts also takes a negative affect to the aesthetics of the town.

“The Boardwalk looks like a big dirty ashtray,” he said. “The smokers want their rights to smoke but they act like slobs.”

Fox even touched on the enforcement that would need to take place if the smoking ban were to take effect, using Bethany Beach as an example.

“I have talked to the police up in Bethany Beach, and they tell me that they have no problem enforcing it because it is self-enforcing,” Fox said.

According to the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing, it is not the intension of these types of ordinances to have police spend time enforcing the prohibitions. The ordinance is designed to be self-enforcing, meaning non-smokers will be informed about where smoking is allowed and non-smokers will have the support of “no smoking” signs, giving them the right to ask someone to stop smoking.

Terry Steimer of the Ocean City Surfrider Foundation was also present to speak on the littering impact of cigarettes on the beach and the Boardwalk.

“We [Surfrider Foundation] believe the way to take care of this problem is not through a city ordinance but through an existing ordinance, littering,” Steimer said.

Steimer said the foundation’s main function is to educate people on prevention of littering on the towns beaches, Boardwalk and streets.

“We feel like with more education we can attack this problem,” he said.

Upon the hearing being closed, Councilman Joe Hall said that it would be his personal preference to ban smoking all together, but as a public servant he views everybody’s personal preferences, residents and visitors, smokers and non-smokers.

“If we could start to provide some education…expand the opportunities for people to segregate themselves,” he said.

Joe Hall proposed the idea to create “cans” with smoking signage lined along the beach and the Boardwalk, providing smokers with smoking stations. This would not mandate smokers to smoke there, but serve as a request for them to smoke within that area.

The smoking stations and signage would serve as “a message of asking people to be responsible,” Joe Hall said.

As far as the “kiddy parks” are concerned, Joe Hall proposed smoking be prohibited in those areas. He made a motion to create voluntary smoking areas on the beach and Boardwalk and restrict smoking in public parks. Councilman Doug Cymek seconded the motion.

Councilwoman Mary Knight agreed but voiced her concern in eventually becoming an intrusive government in the matter.

The council passed Joe Hall’s motion in a unanimous vote.

“This is a small step, and I hope it is an educational step,” Knight said.