Cape May proposes smoking ban for beaches, Promenade

Posted: October 17, 2011

Jack Wichterman vacationed in Cape May for years before moving there, enjoying its Victorian houses and the fresh ocean air.

Now that he lives in the South Jersey city full time, he wants to keep the air as fresh as he remembers it.

Cape May City Council will introduce an ordinance Tuesday that would ban smoking on beaches and the Promenade. Wichterman, Cape May's deputy mayor, introduced the idea to council in April.

Residents can sound off on the ordinance at a public hearing at the Nov. 14 council meeting. If approved, the ban would be among the most sweeping of any at the Shore and would go into effect on Memorial Day weekend.

"I just thought it was time," Wichterman said. "It's nothing new to ban smoking in public places now."

He said he had heard complaints from nonsmokers bothered by smoke at the beach. He was also aware that some smokers did not properly dispose of their cigarette butts.

After hearing these complaints, Wichterman contacted administrators from other New Jersey towns that have curbed smoking on beaches. He received the most positive feedback from Bob Martucci, borough administrator of Seaside Park.

"He said, 'Jack, it went fantastically,' " Wichterman said. "They had very little trouble. It was very enforceable because the people just accepted it."

Martucci was not immediately available for comment.

After speaking with Martucci, Wichterman proposed the idea of "smoke-free beaches" in Cape May to fellow councilmembers in April.

They took the idea one step further, suggesting a smoking ban also for the Promenade, the asphalt walkway that runs along Cape May's beach.

"I wasn't pushing for the Promenade, but they thought it was a good idea," Wichterman said.

Such highly restrictive antismoking rules are rare in New Jersey. Wichterman knows of only about a half-dozen towns that have banned smoking on beaches outright, including Belmar and Point Pleasant.

A handful of other towns, such as Seaside Heights, have banned smoking on only portions of their beaches.

Three years ago, the Ocean County borough passed an ordinance restricting smokers to 20 feet from beach entrances, Seaside Heights administrator John Camera said.

"We got a lot of support for what we did, but the person who was most vocal about it thought it should be a complete ban," he said.

Seaside Heights decided not to go for a blanket ban because administrators didn't want to alienate anybody, Camera said.

"We thought we could accommodate smokers and nonsmokers on the beach, and we wanted to," he said.

Smokers have free rein of the first 20 feet of the 200-foot beach, but if they're caught smoking past that point, they face fines of $100 to $1,250.

Fines are determined by the judge who hears the case, Camera said, but no one has been fined yet.

Generally, he said, people police themselves.

"There are enough people down there that if they see something, they'll say something," Camera said.

Cape May hasn't determined how it will punish offenders if the proposed ordinance passes, Wichterman said. He said officials hope they won't have to.

"I hope that commonsense will dictate that it will pretty much self-enforce," Wichterman said.

The city plans to add "No Smoking" to the signs at each entrance to the beach. It will also rely on beach-tag checkers, situated at each of the 28 entrances from Memorial Day until Labor Day, to tell beachgoers to toss their butts.


Contact staff writer Emily Brill at 856-779-3882 or ebrill@philly.com.

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