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City will re-light smoking on beach, Boardwalk debate

(March 28, 2014) City Council announced this week that a discussion on making the resort’s beaches smoke-free will be scheduled for next month, a long-anticipated move that seems to be gaining traction amidst the recent tide of “clean image” policies from City Hall.

“I think the support is there for some type of plan to be more pro-active,” said Councilman Brent Ashley, noting that the measure had been the subject of favorable discussion at one of the council’s recent strategic planning sessions.

“I think we’re falling behind our competitors if we don’t go forward with this,” Ashley said.

The topic will be presented at the April 15 council session, City Manager David Recor said, along with a bullet-point list of “best practices for the beach and Boardwalk” gathered from city staff.

“This is an extremely important discussion,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight.

The push to ban smoking on the city’s beach goes hand-in-hand with a number of other quality-of-life initiatives the council has undertaken. This summer will be the debut of “no profanity please” signs on the Boardwalk, a ban on riding in the beds of pickup trucks, and proposed increased enforcement of cigarette butt littering.

“It’s not unlike the profanity signs,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “We tried addressing it three years ago by having a voluntary smoking area on the beach, and I think that showed that smokers who are cognizant of their surroundings already elect to not infringe on non-smokers.”

For the 2011 season, the city placed butt-disposal stations along the beach, asking smokers to smoke there and dispose of their butts properly instead of putting them out anywhere in the sand. Success has been mixed – many smokers do use them, but the vast majority of litter collected by the city’s beach cleaning tractors is still cigarette filters.

“My feeling is that society is drifting that way [toward banning smoking], and it’s time that we step up to where other gathering places like restaurants and bars did several years ago,” Dare said. “People have a right to expect clean air.”

With Rehoboth Beach passing a smoking ban earlier this year, all of Ocean City’s Delaware neighbors – Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, and Fenwick – will be smoke-free.

If next month yields a positive response, a policy for Ocean City could be in place by the summer season, although Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said she would still rather put the issue to referendum in the fall.

“We’ve been through this many times before, since I’ve been here, and I’d still like to see it put to the voters,” Pillas said.

Dare said he doubted how productive a referendum would be, given that the roughly 20 percent of the population that smokes would be predictably for it and the rest predictably against.

“If you want to know the result of the referendum, I could probably tell you right now,” he said. “We need to get input from the public, and after we’re educated on the subject, the Mayor and Council need to make that decision.”

Enforcement of a potential ban would likely be done in the same way that other beach restrictions, such as the prohibition on ball sports, are done. Only if the lifeguard receives a complaint, or sees that the infraction is causing a problem, does it become an issue. And only if the violator refuses to stop or is recalcitrant toward the lifeguard are the police involved.

“Enforcement, I don’t think, is going to be an issue in reality,” Dare said. “I would hope that it would be a ‘soft opening’ with mostly casual warnings, if we do in fact decide to do it.”

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