WILDWOOD CREST — Here in the Crest, a family town whose wide beaches are framed by a jumble of new condos and old motels, you will still be able to smoke on the beach this summer. And that will be unlike just about anywhere else at the Jersey Shore.
It’s an unlikely distinction for Wildwood Crest, hardly an anything-goes kind of place, but it’s nearly May and Wildwood Crest is so far the only beach town in South Jersey to have gone to the trouble of designating a permitted smoking area under the state’s beach smoking ban that went into effect in January.
You still can’t even buy alcohol in the Crest, though that might be changing. But there will be designated smoking areas.
The law, which bans smoking and vaping of any kind on the state’s beaches and in its parks, allows towns to designate up to 15 percent of the area as smoking zones. Other towns like Brigantine have discussed it, but Wildwood Crest adopted the required ordinance earlier this month, creating 21 smoking areas between street ends.
Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrera said he was not expecting the Crest to be the only South Jersey beach town to set up a smoking area. It’s a distinction he doesn’t necessarily relish.
“We’re also a wellness town,” Cabrera added. “It’s a difficult balance. I would rather it be smoke free.”
The smoking areas will require new signs, as will the total ban at other beaches, which already list the many prohibited activities for which the Jersey Shore is infamous (Is ball playing really illegal on the beach?).
The town designated 21 areas between beach entrances, near the trash cans. A west wind will now send smoke as well as flies and heat in the direction of the ocean, but a sea breeze will clear the air.
“We have 42 street ends," Cabrera said. “There will be one every two streets, 21, identified with signage in the back beach area where we have our trash and recycling containers.
"We’re willing to give it a shot,” he said. "If it gets to be out of control, we’ll take further action.”
In other towns, including Wildwood, the ban will cover the entire beach. Cigar smokers, especially, will have some adjusting to do. (“I enjoy my beach and relaxing with a nice cigar and beer and the sand in my feet ... just my feelings,” lamented one Ventnor summer resident on Facebook.)
Enforcement strategies will vary.
“This was forced on us,” said Ventnor police chief Doug Biagi, who asks that citizens do not call 911 to report cigar smoke wafting toward their beach chairs. “Now it’s crunch time. We’ll enforce it. If somebody gets irritated we can step in.”
“If you touch sand, that’s enforcement area,” said deputy city manager Jerry Inderwies in Cape May. Smoking is still allowed on Cape May’s promenade. Lifeguards will radio supervisors if they get complaints.
In North Wildwood, a narrower beach than its Crest neighbor, Mayor Patrick Rosenello says smoking will be permitted on the boardwalk side of the dunes as you enter the beach, but not on the beach itself. The town is promoting a recycling program funded with a $10,000 grant from Sustainable Jersey.
North Wildwood Police Capt. John Stevenson says the town will hand out cards explaining the ban as a warning rather than go for summonses, which carry a $250 fine for a first offense. New signs proclaiming North Wildwood’s “Smoke Free Public Beaches & Boardwalk” have been designed.
Atlantic City says it will rely on its lifeguards to enforce the new law, or at least mediate. “[C]lean beaches and clean air are essential to our quality of life,” Mayor Frank Gilliam said in a statement. "... the City of Atlantic City feels that our Beach Patrol functions as the eyes and ears of our beaches.”
But most towns say their lifeguards have more important things to worry about.
“I don’t want my lifeguards being bogged down with those issues,” said Margate Commissioner John Amodeo, who anticipates possibly adding smoking areas near the dunes in the future. “If they get a complaint, they can call it up to headquarters, and we dispatch Class 2s [summer officers].”
Other towns say they don’t think police officers, already patrolling with breathalyzers (in Wildwood at least) for underage and other alcohol drinkers, or overburdened beach badge checkers need to add smokers to their portfolio. Most say they will address any issues complaint by complaint, and hope the law encourages compliance.
Avalon’s business manager Scott Wahl said the borough discussed a carve-out for smoking but didn’t take any action. Same for Stone Harbor, Sea Isle City, and Brigantine.
“It would be very difficult to enforce,” Wahl said. (Not to mention that calculating 15 percent depends on high or low tide on a beach.) “The lifeguards are keeping their eyes on the waters," Wahl said. "Our beach tag checkers will be doing some proactive reminders. We’re not sending police officers strictly after smokers.”
“We are simply going to follow the state law,” said Katherine Custer, Sea Isle’s public information officer. “We try to encourage our beachgoers to be courteous.”
Towns like Longport and Long Beach Township already had smoking bans on their beaches. In Ocean City, where a city ordinance banning smoking on the beach took effect late last summer, police Sgt. Patrick Randles said the city is working on a game plan for this summer.
“We’re waiting to see what the overall reaction is to it," Randles said.
Brigantine business manager Jim Bennett also said the ban would not be the job of lifeguards. “I’m not going to pull them out of the stand and have them chase the smokers,” he said. “It’s usually a self-policing issue. We’ll have the officers down there on the beaches.”
In Wildwood Crest on a warm spring day last week, Tracey Foley and her daughter, Caitlin, soaked up some sun near a new condo the family had purchased. “I’m not a smoker, and I don’t appreciate the smoke,” said Foley. “Honestly I feel sorry for people who smoke. You’d have to excuse yourself from whatever you’re doing.”
“Does that include the vapes?” Caitlin asked. (Yes.)
Gianpaolo Panzeri, 40, originally from Italy, said he had just quit smoking and welcomed the law. He noted it would be nearly impossible on the beaches of Italy, where people are packed in and nearly everyone is smoking. “That’s a cultural thing,” he said.
But Jeff Tittel of the state’s Sierra Club predicted the ban will not be difficult to enforce. He said smoke-free beaches and parks will improve the environment, the health of people and animals, and cut down on the risk of fire.