Ocean City Officials Prepping for Tobacco Restrictions - Southern Maryland Headline News

Ocean City Officials Prepping for Tobacco Restrictions

By Max Bennett

ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 11, 2014)—Beachgoers in Ocean City, Md., will need to be careful where they put their butts next summer.

Smoking restrictions on the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City will take effect next year, and city officials are working out the details for the 2015 vacation season.

Ocean City officials adopted an ordinance designating smoking areas along the boardwalk and beach Aug. 26.

The restrictions will go into effect May 1, but city staffers need to scout potential designated smoking areas for presentation to the city council then develop a strategy for spreading the word to locals and visitors.

"We're kind of still in process of researching," said Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters.

The topic will go back before the council Oct. 14, and will include a detailed plan locating smoking areas and a publicity strategy, officials said.

Ocean City Planner Bob Nelson laid out the smoking area logistics at the Aug. 26 meeting.

Beach smoking areas will be 50 feet east of either the boardwalk or the toe of the established dune and will feature a red, metal, 22-gallon can clearly marked for smokers' use.

On the boardwalk, designated smoking areas will have a 4-gallon plastic receptacle with signage stating the area is for smoking.

Waters said it's important to have areas for smokers and non-smokers.

The group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights reports that as of July 4, 209 municipalities have passed smoke-free beach laws.

"All these beaches aren't going smoke-free because it's hurting their business; they're going smoke-free because it is helping their business," said council member Brent Ashley. "You're driving away more people by having it this way than by going smoke-free."

Ashley, who voted against the ordinance, wants Ocean City to completely ban smoking on beaches in order to guarantee pristine coastlines for visitors, and says the current ordinance does not reach far enough.

He likened not smoking on the beach to refraining in a baseball park or on a flight.

"A vast majority of emails I've gotten have shown support for a total beach and boardwalk ban," he said.

Waters said the city does not want to alienate smokers.

Ocean City officials have used Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which had its first summer of boardwalk and beach smoking restrictions and bans this year, as a model.

Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Stan Mills fronted the smoking-restriction effort in the Delaware resort town beginning in 2011, and he was included in the Aug. 26 Ocean City council meeting where the ordinance was adopted.

"Stan was really impressive in that meeting. It helps to have a resource who has done this," said Waters.

Mills said the smoking restrictions in Rehoboth were generally verbally enforced.

"We didn't want a strong-arm approach," he said. "We saw education as a key,"

The Rehoboth Beach Police Department issued about 300 verbal warnings and about four civil citations, Pubic Information Officer Lt. William Sullivan said.

"Most people were compliant," said Sullivan. "Naturally, because of the influx of seasonal people, not too many people know about changes. As time goes on more people will know."

Ocean City Police will follow suit in their first year of enforcing the smoking restrictions, according to Ocean City Police Department Communications Specialist Lindsay O'Neil.

O'Neil said the city will mainly verbally enforce the restrictions with the potential to issue written warnings and even fines, which can range from $25 to $1,000.

The department is planning an awareness campaign, along with other community groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Department of Tourism.

"We are still working on spreading the knowledge," said O'Neil.

Ocean City patron Diana Georgius of Westminster said she sees the restrictions as "too much government regulation."

"Being in a room with a smoker is one thing, but being in open air is different," she said.

Georgius, an office manager at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, Md., and a nonsmoker, said while smoke smells bad, she doesn't feel it endangers her health.

The ordinance will not apply to e-cigarettes.

One of the main selling points of a smoking restriction is to limit environmental impacts from cigarette butts and ash, and e-cigarettes do not produce nearly as much waste as traditional cigarettes, according to Ajjay Tambie.

Tambie is the store manager at S.S. Vape - an e-cigarette retailer with locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Delaware - in Ocean City.

Tambie said their disposable products are made from recyclable and biodegradable plastics, unlike the fiberglass used in traditional cigarette filters.

"Our products we classify as disposable are made to last 2-4 weeks depending on the user's preference," he said.

S.S. Vape also sells refillable, reusable e-cigarettes, which limits waste, he said.

Tambie said he is, personally, in favor of the smoking restrictions.

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