Electronic cigarettes listed in smoking ban

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OCEAN CITY — As City Council moves to stub out cigarette, pipe and cigar smoking from the boardwalk, electronic cigarettes have also been included in the ban.

The public has a chance to weigh in at a hearing before the final vote, 7 p.m. Thursday June 26 at City Hall at 9th Street and Asbury Avenue. At the same meeting, council is set for a hearing and final vote on an ordinance borrowing $2.6 million as part of a renovation plan for the former Dan’s Dock at 10th Street and the bay.

At the last meeting, numerous neighbors of the property turned out to support the proposal, which would loan the money to the Gill Family, former operators of the restaurant and marina, to purchase and renovate the derelict property. The plan calls for the money to be paid back within seven years.

While much of the last City Council meeting was spent on the proposal for the Palen Avenue neighborhood, City Council’s primary concerns with the smoking ordinance focused on enforcement and where smoking would be allowed on the crowded boardwalk.

Mayor Jay Gillian said the city would have to plan for smokers to congregate at the ends of the boardwalk stairs and ramps to smoke, and council members suggested the city give warnings rather than fines to violators. The fines start at $100 under the ordinance, and can go 10 times higher for repeat offenders.

Electronic cigarettes, which emit a vapor rather than smoke, were not discussed at all. This week, after a call from a reporter and a quick review of the ordinance as introduced, city attorney Dottie McCrosson said it would apply to electronic cigarettes. 

The ordinance amends an existing ordinance in the city code, which limits smoking to certain sections of the boardwalk, and bans it in city parks and recreation areas, including playgrounds and basketball courts. City Council also amended the previous ordinance to include a city park that had been overlooked.

City Councilman Scott Ping had asked for the amended ordinance, which council supported unanimously on its introduction. Ping could not be immediately contacted on Tuesday morning. The mailbox on his phone number listed on the city website was full.
The ordinance defines smoking as “the burning of, inhaling from, exhaling the smoke from, or the possession of a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, hookah or similar device, or other matter or substance which contains tobacco or any other matter than can be smoked, or the inhaling or exhaling of smoke or vapor from an electronic smoking device.”

This month, Middle Township moved to ban smoking on public property, including playgrounds and recreation areas. Despite scoffing from some members of the public, that township specifically included electronic cigarettes, saying there is little information about potential health risks from the vapor.

Since their introduction to the United States in 2007, electronic cigarettes have become a booming business, but controversy remains as to the potential health risks or benefits. While many experts say the battery powered cigarettes seem to be far safer than smoking tobacco, some states have issued health advisories about the products. Last month, Arkansas warned consumers about the products, especially the concern that children could be exposed to the liquid nicotine many of the e-cigarettes use.

The health risks from cigarettes are far better established. The Centers for Disease Control says smoking harms every organ in the body, and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency says secondhand smoke poses a serious health risk for children. 

Nationally, several cities have already banned smoking in public parks, including Philadelphia, where Mayor Michael Nutter signed a bill in late April. Some smokers have been angry over the increasingly strict limits.

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