According to Town Manager Ashley Loftis, a possible smoking ban on Surf City’s beach areas was discussed by councilmembers “very briefly and then they moved on.”
SURF CITY — Town Manager Ashley Loftis disputed a recent media report suggesting that a smoking ban on Surf City beaches were set to go before the town council during its meeting next month.
“The Town only had a small discussion about smoking on the beach due to citizen concerns that were presented during a recent beach sweep,” Loftis said on Monday. “The Town does not have anything proposed to implement a smoking ban at this time and it is not on the agenda for our upcoming June 4 meeting at this time.”
Although the issue was brought up at council workshop meeting last Friday, she said councilmembers discussed the issue “very briefly and then they moved on.”
“Nothing was finalized or approved,” Loftis said. “It was simply a discussion.”
In 2018, an ordinance was adopted to establish a zone prohibiting smoking, vaping, and alcohol consumption on an approximately 1,300-foot stretch of beach that lies between Greensboro Avenue and Kinston Avenue, according to Police Chief Ron Shanahan.
Under North Carolina law, “a local government may adopt and enforce ordinances, board of health rules, and policies restricting or prohibiting smoking that are more restrictive than State law and that apply in local government buildings, on local government grounds, in local vehicles, or in public places.”
After a 2012 referendum, Wrightsville Beach adopted a no-smoking ordinance on its beach strand while Carolina Beach decided to hold off enforcing a similar ban until it received approval from the state.
According to Carolina Beach Town Clerk Kim Ward, the town never adopted the ban after discussions with its attorney, who said there existed “no enabling legislation that would allow you to enforce that policy.”
On Monday, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Daniel House said his officers don’t focus as much on the enforcement of its smoking ban as much as on education and public awareness, efforts he says have been effective. Because an infraction would be issued as a criminal citation, he said the district attorney’s office would be hesitant to prosecute something like that.
Samantha Dooies of the New Hanover and Pender County District Attorney office said the issue is mainly addressed by her office through littering statutes.
“Littering is regularly prosecuted in the district courts on beaches and throughout the district,” Dooies said. “In [Wrightsville Beach], law enforcement usually prefers to address the smoking violation with a civil citation and collect a fine.”
According to Dooies, if police officers bring violations to the criminal courts, the merits of the case will be evaluated and prosecuted as class-3 misdemeanors when appropriate. She also said there were jurisdictional issues with smoking on beaches if the smoker is standing in the water.
Surf City Councilmember Teresa Batts said such a ban would be unnecessary because littering was already illegal, but she would consider a similar smoking ban in the town’s parks if it comes up in the future.
“I think they should be held accountable, just like with any other kind of trash that you take out on the beach,” Batts said. “You should be held accountable for your trash.”
She said the idea of a possible ban was mentioned at the end of last week’s workshop meeting; at the time, Mayor Doug Medlin said people who had participated in recent street and beach sweeps reported a “tremendous amount of cigarette butts in the trash that they picked up.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com