(Jan. 23, 2015) Same great Boardwalk taste, now with less tar.
The Ocean City Council took the final – some would say inevitable – step this week of voting on a final smoking restriction plan that will prohibit smoking at any location on the boards after May 1.
“I think we have succeeded in our goal to have a smoking policy that accommodates everyone,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight. “We have a total nonsmoking Boardwalk.”
The move comes after nearly a year of roundabout discussion in City Hall over how to implement a smoking policy for the beach and Boardwalk, specifically, one that will improve public health, and the city’s family-friendly image, while still accommodating the estimated 17 percent of the visiting population that smokes.
The council voted this past August to pass a resolution declaring the city’s intent to restrict smoking as of May 2015.
Since then, however, the council has repeatedly been hung up on the notion of creating designated smoking areas, where smokers would have to stay within a certain distance of a cigarette butt receptacle.
While these would be less problematic on the beach, space on the Boardwalk is at a premium. A number of past and current city officials have said that smoking areas on the boards would be counter-productive, creating a concentrated area of secondhand smoke that would be unavoidable for passersby due to the volume of pedestrian traffic in the summer.
That notion seems to have become the consensus since the council’s last discussion of the matter two weeks ago.
In the interim, council members had toured the Boardwalk with City Manager David Recor to review the butt receptacle locations proposed by city staff. Recor’s draft proposal had called for stone aggregate smoking stations to be placed on the beach access ramps and concrete areas of the lower Boardwalk, those being the least inconvenient places staff could find.
However, “it seemed to be the consensus of the group [during the council tour] that we eliminate the aggregate receptacles from the Boardwalk,” Recor said.
Instead, all the city’s smoking stations will consist of 22-gallon metal drums, painted orange. All but four of these drums will be located on the sand.
Most of the drums will be placed 15 feet east of the boards, or of the concrete tram lane south of Fourth Street, roughly one every block. The hope is that smokers walking the boards will be willing to step 15 feet out into the sand to have a cigarette.
“There’s no smoking anywhere on the Boardwalk, “ said Councilman Tony DeLuca. “It’s about having a consistent message.”
As Councilman Dennis Dare noted, most studies have found that the vast majority of secondhand smoke dissipates within 10 to 15 feet.
Additionally, a second row of orange butt cans will be placed further out on the sand below North Division Street, where the beach rapidly widens. This is so that smokers spending the day on the beach will not have to walk the whole way back toward the Boardwalk to have a cigarette.
Four orange cans will also be placed on the concrete passages leading from the inlet parking lot to the Boardwalk.
Above 27th Street, where the Boardwalk ends, smoking will still be restricted to orange cans located roughly 50 feet east of the dune line. The cans will be spread more widely as one heads north toward less-crowded areas of the beach.
The city will also be replacing most of its street-end signs, from the inlet to the Delaware line, to reflect the new policy.
Additional signs will also be placed on the streets leading up to the Boardwalk, roughly 50 feet west of the boards. Small, plastic receptacles will also be placed at these points to encourage smokers to deposit their butts there, instead of dropping them on the street end next to the boards.
The council voted six-to-one Tuesday night to approve the plan, which also would limit e-cigarette use, as well as prohibit smoking or vaping at city bus stop shelters. Councilman Matt James was the only dissenting vote, preferring a total ban.
“I’d like to see the beach banned as well,” James said.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres will now begin composing an ordinance to codify the council’s plan. The first public reading of the ordinance will likely be at the end of February.
“This is going to take a complete re-write of Article 8, Chapter 30 of the city code,” Ayres said.
The city has a budget of just under $40,000 to implement the smoking restriction, covered by grant funding from the Maryland Cancer Fund and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Eliminating the cost of the aggregate smoking stations would give city staff more budget room for a public awareness campaign about the new policy, Recor said.
Previous discussion about enforcement had stressed that city lifeguards would not be responsible for the new policy.
The Ocean City Police Department outlined a “soft roll-out” of enforcement against those who were smoking too far away from the butt cans.