Deputy mayor says new smoking ban will be just for beaches

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CAPE MAY – Deputy Mayor Jack Wichterman plans to reintroduce the idea of a smoking ban on beaches here within the next month.

“I sure am. I am ready right now,” said Wichterman, who was re-elected deputy mayor by his council colleagues at the Jan. 1 reorganization meeting. “I want to see the ban go forward strictly on the beaches, excluding the promenade and public parks.”

City council deadlocked on a proposed ordinance to ban smoking at all public beaches, parks and recreation areas at its second regular council meeting in November.

The 2-2 vote meant that the measure failed. Mayor Ed Mahaney and Councilwoman Terri Swain voted against the ban. Wichterman and Councilman William Murray voted in favor of it.

The fifth council member, Deanna Fiocca, was absent from the meeting and scheduled vote.

"It is, perhaps, too large a step," said Mahaney in comments before the vote.

"We have become the 'city of no'…a city of signs that tell us what we can't do," said Swain in her remarks. "We have to ask if we are a welcoming community. As the ordinance is now, I would have a hard time voting for it. It needs to go back to the drawing board.”

Wichterman first proposed the smoking ban on two-thirds of the city’s beaches last April. In a May council work session, representatives from anti-smoking groups made presentations to the five member city council.

The deputy mayor brought the proposal to an October work session, where it appeared to have support from all five council members.

“My original proposal was limited to the beaches. It would not have extended to the promenade or to the city’s parks,” said Wichterman. “Those suggestions came from council and went too far.

“We have a $10.5 million Convention Hall on track to open this spring. If smoking were banned on the promenade, people would have to get across the street at intermission to smoke a cigarette. That is not a reasonable situation.”

Wichterman said that he believes the beach smoking ban would enhance Cape May’s reputation regionally, rather than hurt tourism.

“Look, we have a nice clientele that comes here to visit and stay,” he said. “Banning smoking on the beach makes things nicer, all around. And, if the ban is only on the sand, there is no significant inconvenience.”

At the November meeting where the proposed ordinance failed, local business owners spoke about the impact the ban could have on their bottom line.

“I am a nonsmoker. But, you are taking this a step too far for those who do smoke,” said Mickey McGlade, of McGlade’s on the Pier restaurant at 722 Boardwalk here. “Customers are not allowed to smoke inside now. Where we are located, customers will have to step outside and get across the street – perhaps walk a block – to be able to smoke.”

“I never thought Cape May would feel the recession, but we are. This ban will give people one more reason to hustle home,” she added.

Other business owners expressed concerns that the ban’s inclusion of the Washington Mall would keep people from extending their shopping excursions there.

At the meeting last fall, Wichterman presented a brief summary of Seaside Park’s smoke ban.

"Their entry ways to the beach are similar to ours, with approximately 28 points where people enter the beach. The beach taggers advised the people that the beaches were non-smoking and it was added to the 'do's and don'ts' signs at every beach," said Wichterman.

The Seaside Park ordinance passed in late April was in effect last summer.

"The cooperation was almost 100 percent, with very little complaining. When bathers wanted to smoke, they exited the beach and boardwalk and smoked on the shoulder of the street. If necessary, lifeguards informed folks that the beaches were smoke free…there was very little noncompliance," he noted, summarizing his conversation with the Seaside Park administrator.

Wichterman said that he believes any ban would, ultimately, be self-policing.

“Smokers know that they are in the minority. If the information is put out there, smokers will comply, just as they have with the restaurant and bar smoking bans,” he said. “When those statutes passed, people said it would be the death knell for bars. That simply wasn’t true. People adjusted, smokers have followed the rules.”

Wichterman said that he believes there is time for a beach smoking ban to be passed and implemented for this summer.


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