Ocean City Council took a step toward banning smoking on the boardwalk Thursday night.
City council unanimously approved a resolution on first reading that would ban smoking anywhere on the boardwalk, including the ramps and stairs leading to the boardwalk.
The proposed penalty for smoking in these areas is $100-$250 for the first offense and $500-$1,000 for any subsequent offense.
Council members were in agreement that smoking should be banned on the boardwalk, as it presents a safety hazard as well as a danger to children and non-smokers from secondhand smoke.
Those smoking cigarettes also tend to throw their butts in the beach sand when they are finished.
There was some concern that banning smoking on the boardwalk itself would result in smokers congregating at boardwalk entrances, leading to a situation in which families may have to walk through the smoke to get onto the boardwalk.
Councilman Keith Hartzell suggested a large sand-filled area where smokers could congregate away from the boardwalk entrance. It could also reduce the cost the city might have to take on from installing new receptacles, as they could throw the butts into the sandy area.
Hartzell purchases receptacles for his business, which he says are expensive and need to be replaced often when they are stolen.
Councilmen Michael DeVlieger and Peter Guinosso each expressed concern that smokers should be given a warning before being fined.
“People have been smoking on the boardwalk a long time. I think we should give them a warning or two before hitting them with a fine,” DeVlieger said. “I think it makes sense to do this, but we must educate the public about it before we start fining people.”
“We should put actual warning language in there,” Guinosso said.
City officials cautioned that police officers always have the discretion of issuing a warning, and don’t believe specific language needs to be included in the law.
The idea was brought forth by Councilman Scott Ping, who was hoping this legislation would’ve been introduced previously.
“A few years ago, we made the change to ban smoking and I was hoping we would do the whole boardwalk at that time,” Ping said. “We ended up with designated areas and a beach full of butts.”
Smoking is already banned in parks and recreational areas. Language of the ordinance was amended to ensure it would be banned at the 29th Street Playground, as well. The playground was opened last month as part of the Sandy Ground Project.
If the proposed ordinance reaches second reading, smoking would be banned on the boardwalk beginning in mid-July.