OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council have voiced a consensus to move forward in creating smoke-free areas on the beach by next summer.
Terry Steimer of the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and chair of the Ocean City “Leave Only Your Footprints” campaign received permission this week from the Mayor and City Council to continue a program to place cigarette butt cans along the resort’s beach and Boardwalk.
In the last year, the foundation has initiated a pilot program to place cigarette butt cans along the beach and Boardwalk to educate smokers in the responsible areas to smoke.
Out of the 200 cans that were placed, there are 136 that remain due to being lost in weather or stolen. Out of those cans 69,000 butts have been collected.
“We thought the program was successful and we hope to continue with it,” Steimer said.
Once the council agreed to the continuation of the program, Mayor Rick Meehan asserted that cigarette butts on the beach have become a bigger issue than what the collection efforts can solve.
“I know we have many discussions up here about our beach and Boardwalk and what we should do and what we shouldn’t do but if you really want to look environmentally at the big picture, and that’s what we have always done, right now we are trying to direct people to certain areas to smoke and its resulting in minimal success. Any success is good but its minimal,” Meehan said.
A public hearing was held in December of 2010 when a ban on smoking on Ocean City’s beaches, Boardwalk and public parks was last debated.
A handful of speakers spoke for and against the question, but the current council decided to place butt cans and signage along the beach and the Boardwalk, providing smokers with smoking stations. It does not mandate smokers do it there, but it serves as a request for them to smoke within that area. As for public parks, the council voted to prohibit smoking in those areas.
“Probably the only way that you can direct people to certain areas so that they can use these containers is that if they weren’t able to smoke in the other areas, and I think it is a conversation we need to have again,” Meehan said. “Making our beach a smoke-free beach at some point in time is going to become a reality and I just think that’s the way our country is going and that is probably a good thing.”
The mayor proposed that between now and next summer the conversation be held and suggested to perhaps start out with having restrictive smoking areas where the cigarette butt cans will really come into play.
“In the long run, it might create some growing pains and some anxiety for some, as many other things have as we have grown over the years to become what I think is the best family beach resort anywhere, but I think it is where people expect us to be at some point in time,” he said.
Steimer respectfully disagreed with the mayor pointing out that the cigarette butt can program was only entering its second year and suggested to allow the program to continue for a few more years before more serious steps are taken.
“I thought we collected a significant amount of butts for the first year, and I think it is way too early to make that determination at this point in time,” he said.
According to Steimer, St. Petersburg, Fla., as well as the Virginia Natural Resources Department, researched this area before as far as smoking on the beach and found that if the town provides smoking areas than it will help those people who are aggravated with smokers being next to them and the people who smoke because they are already attuned to restricted to certain areas throughout the United States.
Council President Jim Hall agreed with the mayor saying the smoking on the beach has become a bad example for children as well as offensive to non-smokers.
“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,” Jim Hall said using the example of establishing certain streets on the beach as smoke-free.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas hoped to have the discussion sooner than later.
“I would like to put it to the voter actually,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind it being a referendum question. Do we want to go smoke free or do we want to do designated areas?”
Councilman Joe Hall also agreed with the mayor’s position to hold a future discussion and suggested the town start by restricting smokers to the west of the lifeguard stands so that the area in front of the stands, where most of the children play, could be smoke free.
Council President Jim Hall asked City Manager David Recor to schedule the discussion following the summer season, sometime in October, at which time the council will review other resorts and how they enacted a smoking ban on their beaches.
“It is time to take the next step,” Meehan said. “It is time to move forward progressively to attack this problem.”
Ocean City’s neighboring resort town, 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.