Restricted Smoking, Not A Ban, Coming For Ocean City

The issue was awkwardly handled this week, but the bottom line in Ocean City is a restricted smoking policy for the beach will be in place for the season of 2015.

It was disappointing to see the Mayor and Council have to table immediate action on the change, but it was also clear the city was disorganized and not ready to move ahead with this immediately. There are too many practical questions in need of addressing, including whether the city wants to restrict smoking on the beach or Boardwalk or both and exactly how it should be carried out.

The intention seems to be to limit restrictions to the beach and to essentially follow what many other beach towns do. It’s important to note there are only a few true beach smoking bans in the country. Almost all towns, including nearby Rehoboth Beach, Del., allow smoking on the beach, but only in designated areas.

Ocean City is going this direction as well, but it was clear the town’s elected officials who support it are unclear how to accomplish it and depending on staff to craft suggestions. They want to be as accommodating as possible to smokers, while not endangering other beach-goers and cutting down on the amount of cigarette butts discovered in the sand on a daily basis.

It was not a surprise to see the votes were there to enact smoking restrictions on the beach, but it was discouraging to see the city had no true plans to accomplish it. There were no designs of so-called smoking stations. No recommendations on whether they should go on every street end or where they should be located on the beach. No proposals on the amount of square footage should be given to smokers and no discussion on how smokers would dispose of their butts afterwards. No sign designs submitted for the council’s review.

It was clear staff had done some homework and research on the matter by what was in the packet, which included a proposed ordinance, but it was short on the actual details needed for the city to move forward with it for this summer. Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged the information presented by staff was wanting. That’s surprising considering it was identified as a major action item in the town’s strategic plan in March.

The reality here is what Councilman Brent Ashley initially motioned for Tuesday will likely be a reality. By May 1, 2015, a restricted smoking policy will be in place on the beach. There’s work to be done in the meantime to determine how to carry the details out as far as implementation and enforcement, but it’s going to happen.

What’s important to remember is this is not a smoking ban. There will be opportunities for smokers to light up on the beach, but there will be new limitations and it’s probably not going to be convenient.