Smoking Regs Coming To OC In Summer ’15; Council Votes 4-3 To Institute Restricted Areas

OCEAN CITY – A majority of the City Council voted this week to move forward a new law that will restrict smoking on Ocean City’s beach and Boardwalk to designated smoking locations.

This week’s decision served as a follow-up to a Mayor and City Council work session in April when city staff was directed to present an implementation plan to impose smoking restrictions on Ocean City’s beach and Boardwalk. Following that meeting, a peer committee was established to devise a plan of action, develop enforcement criteria and prepare draft legislation.

Planner Bob Nelson presented the Smoking Committee’s suggestion for the council to weigh three options — do nothing, regulate smoking to designated smoking areas either year-round or seasonal or ban smoking on the beach and Boardwalk all together. E-cigarettes are not included in the proposals.

“We have two major concerns; health concerns and littering has become a major issue, and a major complaint on the Boardwalk,” Nelson said.

Nelson explained the Public Works Department has been receiving an increasing number of complaints over cigarette butt litter on the beach and Boardwalk. He added the town is also receiving an increasing number of complaints over smoking in general and the associated health issues.

“We have had some calls … where people are telling me they are going to other beaches because we still allow smoking on our beach and Boardwalk,” Nelson said.

The committee conducted extensive research, including local public outreach. A message regarding proposed smoking regulations was placed on the town’s website and public access channel from late June through July 20, asking for the public’s opinion. Over a period of five weeks, there were 37 comments received. Of those, 30 people were supportive of some kind of restrictions on smoking. The other seven people were against any controls over smoking in public.

The Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association took its own survey among its members during the spring season, resulting in 60 percent of respondents favoring regulating smoking.

The Ocean City Development Corporation’s Boardwalk Committee discussed smoking regulations at its meeting on Aug. 6 and voted to ban smoking on the beach and Boardwalk with health issues and littering being the main reasons.

The Smoking Committee suggested if the council chose to regulate designated smoking areas on the beach to keep the ash receptacles near the dune. It suggested for the Boardwalk placing designated smoking sites every 2-3 streets. However, the committee did point out if smoking was limited on the beach and/or Boardwalk it would force smokers to move to the streets near businesses.

At this week’s meeting, Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Stan Mills came before the council to give a report on that resort’s newly implementing smoking law over this past summer.

Currently, Fenwick Island, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach and Delaware state parks have either smoking bans or regulated smoking in place on the beach.

The City of Rehoboth Beach voted in early March to ban smoking from its Boardwalk and bandstand area and limited smoking to designated smoking areas on the beach effective May 15. First offenders are issued a warning and subsequent offenders are issued a $25 civil fine.

In Rehoboth, there are no more than 20 designated smoking areas along the beach during the summer season and they are at least 40 feet from the dune entrances. The designated smoking areas are marked by a sign and include a cigarette disposal container. Smoking is allowed in a semi-circle within a 12-foot radius of the sign. From Oct. 1 to April 30, the number of designated smoking areas along the beach drops down to four, and the summer operation goes back into effect starting May 1.

Mills reported since May 15 the Rehoboth issued 300 verbal warning and three written citations.

“When the commission discussed this program, we said that we do not want heavy handedness. This is going to be more of an informational process where the police go up to somebody who has been identified as smoking a tobacco product, they inform them that they are not allowed to smoke in the area, and more importantly tell them where they can go to smoke,” Mills said.

Mills challenges include smokers congregating on street ends, where the dividing line of smoking and non-smoking lies, smoke wafting into nearby businesses and an increase of cigarette butt littering in those areas. The other problem is false reports of smoking caused by e-cigarettes. The commission will re-elevate the new law in the next month to address the issues.

“In my perspective, I received more thanks than negativity. Even 99 percent of the smokers that wrote have said they understand this is the wave of the future but at least give some areas and tell us where we can smoke, and that is the route we have chosen to go to achieve the balance between smokers and non-smokers … and I personally deem it successful,” Mills said.

Agreeing with implementing a regulatory standard, Councilman Joe Mitrecic made a motion to move toward ordinance form as of May 1, 2015 to implement regulating smoking on the beach and Boardwalk year-round by providing designated smoking areas.

With the options the Smoking Committee submitted, regulating smoking on the Boardwalk could result 21 designated sites. Receptacles would be positioned mostly along the eastern side of the Boardwalk, south of 7th Street, to place some distance between smokers and the businesses. There is a concrete section adjacent to the Boardwalk where receptacles could be effective. North of 7th Street, receptacles could be placed at the street’s end, on the Boardwalk, adjacent to existing wood fencing.

For designated smoking areas on the beach, approximately 156 red, 22-gallon metal ash cans could be placed at each street intersecting the beach, near beach entry points on the east side of the dune with the purchase of 14 replacement containers for a total of 170 cans. The metal receptacle will have a tight lid with holes to allow smokers to drop their tobacco products through it. A sticker would be placed on each red metal receptacle reading “Please Smoke Within 50 Feet of Cigarette Receptacle.”

Lifeguard stand signs would be altered to explain any new regulations on smoking. Signs at the head of streets intersecting the beach and Boardwalk would also have text added to explain new smoking regulations.

Ocean City Police officers would be enforcing the restrictions with verbal or reminders/written warnings, with citations as a last resort in the amount from $25 to $1,000 only in a worst-case scenario.

Between $17,000 and $20,000 would need to be allocated to implement the initiative. Grants will be sought to fund the program.

“For me, I think that is making it too complicated. Ocean City has always been a leader in a lot of areas and I would like to see us ban entirely smoking on the beach and Boardwalk. It will save us money on signage. It will just be public awareness in banning smoking, that’s it,” Councilman Brent Ashley said.

Council President Lloyd Martin disagreed with an overall smoking ban.

“Moving forward with something like this [regulation] will be taking small steps and then re-evaluate it moving forward,” he said. “According to research, 20 percent of our visitors do smoke and we need to have somewhere for them to go. If we give them a place to go and they feel comfortable with that, they will self-regulate themselves. It’s not as complicated as you think.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight agreed with designated smoking areas on the beach but wanted to see a smoking ban on the Boardwalk.

“I envision people from the beach just walking a few steps, sitting on the seawall, or on the benches and smoking. I am also concerned about businesses on street ends,” she said. “You would have a Boardwalk that is smoke free and a beach with designated areas, and if I am on the Boardwalk I can walk very easily to that designated area on the beach. In a year, we can assess it and maybe then we can go total nonsmoking on the beach also.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said he has little doubt that eventually Ocean City will be smoke-free reviewing the evolution of cigarette smoking through the past.

“If we do it [ban], it is just going to take it [smoking] to the street ends. So, I am interested in trying the designated smoking areas. It has worked in our neighboring communities and re-assessing it on an annual basis,” he said.

Councilman Doug Cymek also agreed with designated smoking areas on the beach and Boardwalk.

“I do agree that we can’t just have people retreating to the seawall or the sides of the Boardwalk to smoke. We are going to have to come up with some designated spots. I do think people are going to self-regulate and we won’t have a whole lot of police intervention,” he said.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed smoking should be banned on the Boardwalk.

“Having had a store on the Boardwalk, when you start to smoke on those benches it goes into the store resulting in second hand smoke. I would like to see the motion include ban smoking on the Boardwalk and ramp area. I can certainly go along with designated areas on the beach,” she said.

Mayor Rick Meehan visited both Fenwick Island and Rehoboth Beach to witness the smoking policies in place. He explained Fenwick Island took a year to educate the public on an upcoming smoking ban on its beach mostly through distributing pamphlets during town events and locations.

This summer, Fenwick Island has posted no-smoking signs at each beach entrance on street ends with a cigarette butt disposal canister mounted on the sign itself.

Meehan continued he is in favor of Rehoboth Beach’s friendly no-smoking message postage on their signage. Signs on the boardwalk state, “Enjoy our Smoke-Free Boardwalk.”

“Both of the communities have been very successful and both of them have really stressed education and compliance rather than heavy handed enforcement. The way they went about it with signage and educational materials, if we are going to go in this direction, is the direction we want to go,” the mayor said, stating he is also in favor or regulating smoking on the beach. “I am concerned on the Boardwalk. Grouping people along the Boardwalk or street ends where people have to walk through are going to create a problem … I really don’t see a good place for designated areas along the Boardwalk. I think they are going to have to walk off of the Boardwalk to smoke.”

Mitrecic attempted to amend his motion to only regulate smoking to designated smoking areas on the beach, leaving the Boardwalk out of it until a consensus could be found on where smokers would go if a smoking ban took place on the Boardwalk.

Dare would not amend his second to the motion pointing out there are other areas along the Boardwalk other than the street ends and ramps where smokers can go.

Mitrecic let his original motion stand. The council voted 4-3 with Ashley, Knight and Pillas opposed to institute designated smoking areas on the beach and Boardwalk year-round starting May 1, 2015. Two readings of a proposed ordinance will follow in the next month allowing the public the opportunity to provide input.

Staff had prepared initial mapping of proposed designated smoking areas on the beach and Boardwalk and will present more details on those areas, such as signage and cigarette butt containers in future discussions.