O.C. wants butt-free Boardwalk
OCEAN CITY - Smokers in this resort can have their cigarettes or their breathtaking view of the surf, but not both.
City Council plans to outlaw smoking on all 21/2 miles of its famed Boardwalk after firefighters blamed a two-alarm blaze here this summer on a discarded butt.
Mayor Bud Knight recommended a partial ban Thursday that would have allowed smoking on the widest sections of the beachfront attraction. But the council went a step further and asked its solicitor to draft an ordinance banning smoking altogether on its wooden way and the Music Pier, the city's historic concert hall.
"A total ban would be easier to enforce," Councilman David Swift said.
This former Methodist retreat was shaped by the rigid doctrines and moral beliefs of its founders, who outlawed everything from the sale of toys on Sundays to the operation of bawdy houses and dance halls.
The city still embraces its most renowned prohibition, that of the sale of alcohol.
But council members said the smoking ban is more about public safety than a personal distaste for tobacco. The resort tried unsuccessfully to outlaw smoking in all city restaurants in 2000. The city gave up on the proposal after a state court dismissed a similar ban in Princeton.
"You don't have a right to regulate smoking based on public health," Solicitor Gerald Corcoran said. "But you do have the right to regulate it based on public safety."
A blaze Aug. 10 destroyed two shops on the Boardwalk and caused smoke damage in several others. Some of those shops remain closed.
Fire Chief Joseph Foglio Jr. said the blaze and another that same day were caused by discarded cigarettes that ignited the dry wooden Boardwalk. The blaze caused an estimated $1 million in damage.
"There is a risk to people and businesses and the economy," Corcoran said. "For all those reasons, we think it is appropriate to regulate smoking."
Council President Frank McCall suggested extending the smoking ban to the beach or at least the narrow section of sand between the Boardwalk and the dunes.
The high school anti-smoking group Student Coalition Against Tobacco, or SCAT, asked council to pass the ordinance. Sophomore Ashley Sobrinski, of Upper Township, presented a 1,000-signature petition in favor of the ban. The Cape May County Department of Health endorsed the proposal.
"Smokers say we're trying to take their rights away," she said. "This is a matter of public safety. A smoke-free Boardwalk is the way to go."
If there were any smokers at Thursday's meeting, they remained silent on the topic. But in 2000, many city residents and some businesses opposed the idea of banning smoking in Ocean City restaurants.