An education phase is oftentimes required when major changes, such as the smoking ban on the Boardwalk, are enacted, but levying a serious consequence when those changes are not adhered to is equally important.
That’s the case in Ocean City with the outright smoking ban on the Boardwalk and the law to smoke in designated areas on the beach. In some cases, visitors are unaware smoking is no longer allowed on the boards and are oblivious to any sort of changes on the beach, despite signage and a visible receptacle. They come to Ocean City once or twice a year, enjoy it and don’t pay attention to what happens here the other 50 weeks of the year. While on vacation, they also are not paying attention to signs and other efforts to inform them of recent changes.
Although they face an uphill battle, given the sheer volume of new visitors to Ocean City every day, education and outreach followed by enforcement must continue to be a major part of the effort to reduce smoking on the beach and prohibit it on the Boardwalk.
This is a difficult job the Ocean City Police Department faces because officers have to determine whether the violators are knowingly breaking the law or lying when they maintain they are uninformed. There has to come a time when enough is enough with blatant violators. Unfortunately, a case-by-case approach is the best bet.
As of Monday, police issued 16 citations for smoking violations on the Boardwalk in June and the first 10 days of July. That compares to just three last year for all of June and July.
Unlike the beach with hundreds of thousands of people spread out over 10 miles of beach, policing the Boardwalk to ensure it’s a smoke-free promenade is a realistic proposition. A certain amount of aggressive enforcement is needed because it’s clear there are some who will not adhere to it. A walk along the Boardwalk on any given summer day shows that. A heavy hand is needed sometimes.
The beach is another matter. What can be done about the beach? It basically has to be handled on a reactionary basis. The public needs to let the lifeguards know there are people smoking and the Ocean City Beach Patrol needs to have a protocol in place to follow to alert police. It’s not the beach patrol’s job to crack down on smoking.
The OCPD can’t have officers going undercover on the beach sniffing out smoking. It should not be a priority. However, police should be expected to respond to calls if the public complains, observe the situation and issue citations.
There’s no reason to make the change toward a smoke-free resort — for the most part — without making the efforts to ensure there is compliance. The time has come for a stricter approach and the public can assist police in these efforts by informing them if they see blatant violators.