OC Council Stops Short Of Boardwalk Smoking Ban; Designated Beach Sites Proposed

OC Council Stops Short Of Boardwalk Smoking Ban; Designated Beach Sites Proposed
OC Council

OCEAN CITY – While the Mayor and City Council are in agreement to move forward with designated smoking areas on the beach, no conclusion has been reached as far as the Boardwalk.

This week the Mayor and City Council continued discussion to restrict smoking to designated areas on the beach and adjacent to the Boardwalk.

City Manager David Recor recalled the former Mayor and City Council last discussed the issue in April and voted 5-2 to restrict smoking on the beach and Boardwalk effective May 1, 2015. At that time, the council directed staff to prepare an implementation plan and prepare for further discussion prior to September 2014.

Following the discussion, an internal Smoking Policy Committee was formed comprised of a number of town departments who were tasked to devise a plan of action, develop enforcement criteria and prepare draft legislation.

In August, staff returned to council providing research on neighboring resorts that have already implemented smoking bans on their beach and/or Boardwalk, such as Fenwick Island, Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach and Delaware state parks. At that time, the former council voted 4-3 to restrict smoking to designated areas on the beach and adjacent to the Boardwalk effective May 1, 2015 but asked staff to prepare a map of designated smoking areas for further review and discussion. Those in opposition were favoring an outright smoking ban on the Boardwalk.

The Smoking Policy Committee has since reconvened and toured the Boardwalk studying the most appropriate designated smoking locations on the beach and Boardwalk.

On Monday evening, Recor presented a proposed ordinance restricting smoking on the beach and Boardwalk to designated smoking areas. The new law will include both nicotine and non-nicotine Electronic Smoking Devices (ESDs).

The committee mapped out 22 designated smoking areas on the beach that will be marked with bright orange gallon receptacles with lids. The receptacles will display Ocean City’s new restricted smoking logo.

There will be one receptacle per street on the beach. The locations would be east of and 50 feet north of the sea wall entranceway or from a dune entranceway. Smokers will have to remain within 15 feet of the receptacle that will remain in place from May 1 to Oct. 31 of each year.

The committee also proposed a total of 15 designated smoking locations adjacent to the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 28th Street. Staff broke the Boardwalk down into three segments. The first segment includes seven locations from South 2nd to 4th streets. The second segment includes five locations from 5th to 16th streets, and the third segment includes three locations from 17th to 28th streets.

None of the locations adjacent to the Boardwalk are on any part of the wooden Boardwalk; only on concrete portions and sea wall access platforms. These locations will be marked with a heavy stone-faced smoking receptacles as well as signage will be posted directing smokers to that area as well as educating the public of the designated smoking areas.

Enforcement Not On Lifeguards

As far as enforcement, Recor stressed the beach patrol will not be responsible for enforcing the proposed ordinance. The town is hoping the new law would be mostly self-policed and self-educated with voluntary compliance. Signage will provide a phone number for the public to report a violation. Verbal reminders are preferred to remind smokers of the town’s new smoking regulation but if all else fails the ordinance will be enforced by Ocean City Police Department who can issue a citation starting at $25.

“We expect the people who come to Ocean City to respect our local rules and regulations,” Recor said. “The police department is responsible for enforcement but their primary role in enforcing this is education and awareness prior to citation.”

The town’s plan is to inform and educate smokers about the importance of abiding by the new program by using outreach and new signage with pleasant messages to gain compliance.

Between the beach and Boardwalk receptacles, signage, which will be created by Public Works, and printed materials for educational purposes the total budget for the project comes close to $40,000.

Recor announced the Maryland Cancer Fund has awarded the town a one-time grant close to $19,000 for materials. However, Worcester County Health Department Office of Prevention Director Marty Pusey was in attendance to announce the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is also assuring a grant of about $19,000 to cover the remainder of the costs.

“The Worcester County Health Department commends you for your efforts to address this issue of environmental tobacco smoke in order to provide a healthy place for people to live, work and play,” Pusey said. “We look forward to partnering with you in educating the public about your desire to provide a safe, clean and healthy resort for not only the 50,000 Worcester County residents but the 5 million visitors that come here each year to Ocean City.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman was in agreement with staff’s recommendation in restricting ESDs after reading through extensive research regarding the devices.

“There are so many people that use those and are quick to tell you it is water vapor. I didn’t mind them being around me until I read this information. It is definitely not just water vapor, and I encourage everybody to research it themselves of what else is included in that,” he said.

Hartman was concerned about the proposed stone receptacles’ shallow ash trays becoming a trash can and creating additional litter.

“Those receptacles are to be placed right at the entrance to the beach … so what we are doing is mandating a family dragging their kids through a cloud of smoke as opposed to passing somebody on the Boardwalk, so I really see this as a detriment to what we are trying to accomplish,” Hartman added. “With all the work that has been done, touring the Boardwalk and looking for the best locations, if this is truly the best that we can offer then I would really like to encourage the council to consider a smoking ban on the Boardwalk.”

Designated Area Concerns

Council Secretary Mary Knight visited all of the proposed designated smoking areas adjacent to the Boardwalk. She pointed out that 17 percent of the population in the northeast smokes, which is predominantly where Ocean City’s visitors are from. She pointed out several of the proposed locations are located near Boardwalk businesses.

“As a business owner I will now be competing with street performers and designated smoking areas, and I think that is a big deterrent for our business owners on the Boardwalk,” she said. “My thought is to just have the designated smoking areas on the beach eliminating probably a lot of costs.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca stated he was in support of designated smoking areas to the east of the Boardwalk because if smoking is banned on the Boardwalk smokers will retreat to the west of the Boardwalk forcing everybody to walk through a cloud of smoke to enter the Boardwalk. However, after the presentation, he realized smoking areas to the east of the Boardwalk creates the same issue for those who are accessing the beach.

“We should put all smoking on the beach, and have no smoking on the Boardwalk whatsoever,” he said. “We should even position the locations on the beach between the walkways. Right now, they are a little too close to the entrances.”

DeLuca added whatever policy is put in place on the beach should be the same throughout Ocean City, not only in the downtown.

Councilman Dennis Dare pointed out the beach replenishment design created not only beach access at street ends but at mid-block that are not used as often.

“If we do place cigarette receptacles, we should consider putting them at the mid-block locations. It is not inconvenient for the smoker on the Boardwalk, and I think it would minimize any effect on the people accessing the beach,” Dare said.

Boardwalk Ban Motion

Understanding the discussion of designated smoking areas on the beach will become more defined in the future, Councilman Matthew James made a motion to ban all smoking on the Boardwalk.

Dare felt that the council was not ready to take that vote as the town is not prepared to address smokers who will retreat to the Boardwalk’s western entrances in front of Boardwalk businesses, and if the council sets a regulation where smokers have to be a certain distance from those entrances then they will be smoking in front of residences and businesses on the side streets.

“I can go to the bank right now that whoever’s business or home that is in front of is going to be in here complaining,” Dare said. “The best solution to this is the 17 percent goes to 0 percent, and it is trending that way but in the meantime it would seem to me that we need to control it as much as possible … I think you are going to be moving the activity closer to the residents, visitors and businesses. Hundreds of people are going to walk down those streets and walk through the trash and the smoke. If it is over on the beach side, a lesser percentage will. It will behoove us to make it inconvenient for the other 83 percent in town.”

Hartman agreed with banning smoking on the Boardwalk and suggested constructing walkways onto the beach to make it more convenient for smokers.

“Still making the Boardwalk smoke free but accommodating those who smoke while not disturbing others,” he said. “I think we owe it to our visitors and the businesses to get the message of our intentions out to the public as soon as possible so people can plan accordingly.”

Councilman Doug Cymek agreed placing smoking receptacles mid-block would make sense as well as constructing a smoking platform.

“I think it is wrong that smokers are going to walk out 50 feet onto the beach at night when the majority of people are on the Boardwalk, and I think we are going to have older people finding it difficult to get to that point,” he said. “I agree we need to accommodate our businesses as well but I think one thing we are forgetting is the enforcement aspect. This could turn into an enforcement obligation for the police department. It might be better to have a separate number for cigarette complaints to keep it out of our normal telephone flow to the police department during the summer.”

Cymek stated it could be in the best interest of the council to do the same as staff and take a tour of the proposed designated smoking areas before making a decision.

“There are ways of dealing with everybody’s concerns here and still retain the rights of the 17 percent,” he said.

DeLuca agreed with the council taking its own tour.

“Let’s do it right the first time,” he said. “We need to maintain the same discipline north as we are south, so if you are coming to Ocean City you know there are designated smoking areas regardless if it is mid-block or the street ends.”

At that point, James withdrew his motion to ban smoking on the Boardwalk.

“Everybody is saying the same thing. We just have to get there together, and have one voice out there so the public knows exactly where to smoke. It has to be consistent,” Council President Lloyd Martin said.

Mayor Rick Meehan reminded the council that time is of the essence.

“Getting this done as soon as possible is important because we still have to get this in ordinance form,” the mayor said. “We have to get this message out, and make sure it is a message that is consistent and loud and clear.”