Rehoboth Beach's slogan is "The Nation's Summer Capital," but this summer it could also be "Thank You For Not Smoking."
The city commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance banning smoking on the beach, Boardwalk, the Bandstand and in all city parks.
The ban will take effect Thursday, May 15.
The ordinance allows the city manager to create designated smoking areas on the beach along the sand fencing between dune crossings. There can be no more than 20 smoking areas during the summer months - May 1 to Sept. 30 - and the areas must be 40 feet apart. Smoking is allowed within a 12 foot radius of a sign and cigarette receptacle that will be placed to designate the smoking area.
Regarding enforcement, Commissioner Stan Mills said it was the city's goal to not be heavy-handed and to encourage voluntary compliance. A violation of the ordinance is a civil offense carrying a $25 fine that can go as high as $50 if not paid.
In a presentation to the commissioners March 10, Mills said implementing the ordinance will require signs, educational materials and additional cigarette disposal urns. He said the cost to implement is an estimated $31,000. Of that total, he said, $12,000 would come from money already budgeted for signs, $10,000 from an anticipated grant from Delaware Division of Public Health and $9,000 in additional city funding.
The ban does not include e-cigarettes. Commissioner Bill Sargent pushed to include e-cigarettes in the ban, but Mayor Sam Cooper said e-cigarettes produce no litter and no secondhand smoke, which is the rationale behind the ordinance. Sargent agreed to not include e-cigarettes so as to not delay the overall smoking ban. Commissioner Patrick Gossett suggested letting the summer play out and then revisiting the issue of e-cigarettes.
The only major change to the ordinance, which has been discussed by the commissioners for the past two months, was banning smoking on the sidewalks adjacent to the Bandstand in addition to the Bandstand area itself. Sargent and Commissioner Toni Sharp wanted the sidewalks included, while Mills and Commissioner Lorraine Zellers favored a more limited ban on just the Bandstand area because it would be easier to enforce.
However, Chief Keith Banks said the sidewalks should be included with the Bandstand ban. He said smokers would just light up in the streets next to the Bandstand, still in close proximity to nonsmokers.
The commissioners agreed to place signs at the line demarking where smoking is banned.
Mills took up the issue of a smoking ban on the Boardwalk and beach after a letter and petition from Rehoboth resident Steve Curson, who garnered over 300 in-person signatures supporting a ban. He left the March 10 special meeting very happy to see the ordinance finally passed.
"It was a lot of hard work, but it definitely paid off," he said. "I'm glad its over with now."
Curson said he was glad to see the commissioners get behind the ordinance, singling out Mills for praise for sheperding it through. He said he hopes the commissioners revisit the idea of designated smoking areas to see if they are even necessary.