The Wildwoods’ famous boardwalk in New Jersey is set to become a no-smoking zone by next summer.
The two-mile boardwalk includes sections in Wildwood and North Wildwood. The towns have each introduced ordinances banning smoking along the popular beachfront walkway, joining Ocean City in prohibiting lighting up on the outdoor walkway.
Just before Memorial Day weekend, Wildwood’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the ban, with North Wildwood’s final vote set this week. If approved as expected, the ban would not go into effect until January of 2018.
The towns plan to run a pre-recorded message on the Boardwalk public address system throughout this summer, informing visitors of the planned change, according to North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello.
Even after the ban goes into effect, he said, visitors will see a great deal of leniency in enforcement. He expects police and others to instead concentrate on education.
“I think you’d have to light up in front of a police officer after he tells you not to,” Rosenello said. “I don’t envision people getting issued summonses.”
Smoking would still be allowed on the beaches.
Last July, Gov. Chris Christie signed a law prohibiting smoking at state-owned beaches and state parks, but stopped short of a smoking ban on all state beaches, as the Democratic Legislature originally proposed. Two years earlier, he vetoed a similar bill, which would have given local towns an option to opt out of the ban. Instead, towns can decide on their own to ban smoking on beaches and elsewhere. Most towns have rules against smoking in playgrounds and parks, and many say no smoking on the beach, too. But far more still allow smokers to light up on their beach blankets.
This spring, Longport became the first town in Atlantic County to ban smoking on its beaches, joining Cape May Point, Harvey Cedars, Seaside Park and others throughout the state in keeping cigarettes off the beach. In 2011, the city of Cape May had considered an ordinance also banning smoking on the beach, but that ordinance faced opposition and didn’t pass a divided City Council.In North Wildwood, the latest move comes at the request of property owners on the boardwalk, Rosenello said. Promoting public health is the primary reason for the move, he added.
“Secondhand smoke is a known health hazard,” Rosenello said. But there were other safety concerns as well.
“Multiple times a summer there are small fires on the boardwalk started by discarded cigarettes,” he said. Sometimes still-burning butts blow between the boards and smolder until a fire starts, or ignite dune grass on the beach or paper under the boardwalk. So far, none of those have led to a significant fire, he said, but the towns don’t want to continue to take a chance.
Besides, he indicated, the competition has already banned smoking. Rosenello cited Ocean City, N.J., and Ocean City, Md., which have both declared their boardwalks no smoking areas. The City Council in Ocean City, N.J,, voted unanimously in June of 2014 to ban smoking on the boardwalk.
Doug Bergen, a spokesman for Ocean City, said what little reaction the city received after the ban took effect has been positive. He said the city has placed cigarette receptacles at the boardwalk entrances to reduce litter, and that police in the resort have taken an educational approach to violations, asking smokers to leave the boardwalk and explaining the rule, rather than writing tickets.
Before Ocean City, N.J., banned smoking on its boardwalk, it restricted smoking to certain spots on the boardwalk.
North Wildwood already has an ordinance on the books prohibiting smoking in public parks and playgrounds, Rosenello said. On the Wildwood Boardwalk, amusement giant Morey’s Piers has not allowed smoking at their facilities for years.
“There are no major amusement parks in the country that still allow smoking,” Rosenello said. “I think smokers are used to the fact that they have to refrain in certain public areas.”
A public hearing and final vote on the North Wildwood version of the smoking ban is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 7 at the North Wildwood municipal building, 901 Atlantic Ave.
Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano did not respond to requests for comment on this story.