OC Should Handle Smoking Like Profanity

The time has come for Ocean City to make more diligent efforts toward stopping smoking on the beach, but banning it outright is terribly problematic from an enforcement standpoint.

There is no reason to pass an ordinance banning smoking on the beach or the Boardwalk in Ocean City because it will be unenforceable for the most part. Sure, other jurisdictions nearby, like Fenwick, Bethany and Rehoboth, have banned smoking, but even the most ardent supporters of those measures have to admit enforcement is a challenge.

While the Boardwalk would not be terribly difficult to handle, aside from the fact it will tie up police officers’ time and attention, instituting no smoking on the beach will be a simple paper law and there is no realistic way the town will be able to enforce it.

Will there be undercover officers strolling the beach? Surely, that’s not an adequate use of resources. The Ocean City Beach Patrol certainly cannot be expected to be charged with this newfound responsibility of catching smokers in the act. The patrol already is unable to truly keep an eye on the no alcohol restriction. It’s understandable because the lifeguards need to be focused on the water, not if they smell smoke and where it’s wafting from or whether the man sitting in his chair under an umbrella has a beer in his cup.

The Mayor and Council will soon deliberate on this no smoking business, and it’s unclear exactly what direction the majority of the council will head. Last week the topic was broached and the tea leaves indicated some sort of action seems to be in the works. At the very least, the town’s elected officials seem intent on at least expanding its rarely enforced current smoking ban at town parks.

A few years ago, the result of the last serious anti-smoking discussion was the park ban and the installation of approximately 200 cigarette butt receptacles to crack down on discards. Almost half of those receptacles were stolen or damaged, and the success of the program was difficult to gauge, despite 70,000 butts being recovered in them.

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. Every visit to the beach will find some butts and oftentimes many. That’s unacceptable. It’s disgusting to have children digging in the sand and returning to their parents with a handful of cigarette butts carelessly discarded by a former beach-goer.

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 toward families enjoying the outdoors. It’s a problem many face routinely.

Rather than hold a referendum on the matter, a topic briefly addressed during last week’s casual conversation, we would like to see the town create non-smoking signs similar to those recently unveiled for the “no profanity please” initiative. The intention will be on display for all to see and maybe, just maybe, it will discourage some from lighting up.

This is a critical summer for Ocean City for several reasons. From a business standpoint, the resort and its businesses need a solid summer because this winter was the worst from a business perspective in at least a decade. That’s saying something because the winters have been getting quieter and quieter in recent years.

Additionally, this summer is important on the public relations front because last summer saw about a dozen disturbing incidents, from multiple stabbings and beach fights to a shooting and Boardwalk violence. Ocean City needs to focus its attention on preventing these situations from occurring again, rather than deploying resources to catch smokers in the act on the beach or Boardwalk.

Ocean City is right to join the anti-smoking in public places movement, but we just don’t think it needs to be a law until the enforcement quandary is figured out.