OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s first summer with heightened smoking restrictions yielded three citations, totaling $150 in fines.
Public Affairs Specialist Lindsey Richard of the Ocean City Police Department added that there were 297 calls for service in regards to smoking violations since May 1, but the department didn’t keep a tab on written warnings because they didn’t write any.
Yet, according to city Council member and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight, that lack of a hammer when enforcing the new smoking restrictions shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
“We wanted the first year to be an educational year for our visitors,” said Knight. “It’s like the mayor says, we have 300,000 new people each week to educate so we had the police officers handing out little cards on the first infraction that explained to people what the change in the law was. We never intended to be heavy handed this year.”
Ocean City was the last of the regional beach resorts to pass smoking restrictions on its beach and Boardwalk, and while those resorts have had a few seasons of a head start to teach their visitors about the new smoking laws, statistics show that Ocean City was comparatively conservative in regards to enforcement in year one.
For instance, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, there were 304 written warnings in 2014, which was the first year its smoking laws were on the books, as well as six written citations. However, according to Lt. William Sullivan, the message that Rehoboth wanted to send to its locals and visitors that the new smoking laws were going to be enforced caught on in year two.
“In year two, this past summer, we only wrote 46 written warnings, and gave out five citations,” he said.
That could mean good news for Ocean City, as the City Council literally deliberated on this topic for almost two years, publicly worrying that any smoking regulations would alienate its smoking visitors and hurt local businesses.
Knight says from what she saw this summer, it’s not likely that will ever be the case.
“What I saw was people who were incredibly appreciative that we had done something,” said Knight, “and I saw people who were so incredibly compliant and used the smoking receptacles on the beach and stayed off the Boardwalk. I am very pleased with the results.”
In May, the council’s smoking ordinance took effect, which prohibited smoking on the beach and Boardwalk, except at designated areas. It was designed to reduce smoke related waste on the Boardwalk and send a clear message to the vast majority of Ocean City visitors who don’t smoke that the resort was committed to clean air as much as it is committed to a clean beach.
Thusly, orange barrels were stationed along the 10 miles of city beach to serve as a receptacle for discarded cigarettes but also act as a guide so smokers would know that they needed to stay within 15 feet of the 22 gallon barrel while they puff their cigarettes.
Implementation of the plan cost roughly $40,000 with a little less than half of that ($18,672) covered by a grant from the Maryland Cancer Fund and almost the entirety of the other half ($19,345) picked up by a grant from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Still, with smaller resorts yielding slightly bigger numbers when it comes to citations related to their smoking ordinances, Knight says she expect next summer to be different as far as enforcement.
“I suspect we will be more strict next season,” said Knight. “This summer was about teaching people, and as much as I wish we would have done this a year or two ago, I think waiting was the right thing for us. We want to get this right on the first try.”