One of the many decisions to be made by Wrightsville voters this election is the fate of the proposed smoking ban on Wrightsville Beach. The Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 against it on March 8, 2012. On April 12, a citizens’ group presented a petition forcing the board to revote or send the ban to a referendum ballot. Again, Mayor David Cignotti and Alderman Bill Sisson voted for the ban. Aldermen Darryl Mills and Elizabeth King and Mayor Pro Tem Susan Collins voted against it.
Although Collins is in favor of the issue going to a referendum vote, she said she was not pleased with how the petition was initiated.
“The petition to force the referendum was brought by a non-resident of Wrightsville Beach,” Collins said. “So I was not happy with the way it came about and it made it not clear that the referendum was something town residents wanted.”
Still opposed to the ban, Collins said she thinks the town’s littering ordinance is enough to deter beachgoers from throwing their butts in the sand. Furthermore, Collins said the stretch of the beach strand where smoking would be banned — from the first line of static vegetation to the mean high tide line — would be difficult to explain to visitors.
“The boundaries are not exact and this is a narrow parcel of land that the town has jurisdiction over that moves and changes,” she said. “This is a moving target line and it is hard to explain to the public.”
If the ban does pass, Collins said she thinks smokers will disregard the ordinance.
“I think they will just smoke in the areas of Wrightsville Beach that they are allowed to smoke and I think they will also smoke wherever they please because … you can’t legislate healthy behavior,” she said.
Conversely, Cignotti said he expects the ban would be very effective in curtailing the amount of smoking on the beach.
“It won’t be perfect to start out, but from the beaches I’ve researched throughout the country, they’ll tell you that they don’t have to write a lot of tickets and that within a few years it becomes acceptable that it is not OK to smoke on the beach,” Cignotti said. “I certainly don’t think [smoking in general] should be illegal, but I don’t think all public places are conducive to smoking.”
For voters who are undecided on the matter, Cignotti said the harmful side effects of cigarette smoke should be enough to sway their vote.
“The Center for Disease Control says that 400,000 Americans die from tobacco related illnesses every year,” he said. “When you allow smoking in large public places like that you are encouraging underage smoking and when people start young that is generally when they spend a lifetime smoking cigarettes.”
For opponents of the ban who claim that it would be difficult to enforce, Alderman Sisson said it would go hand in hand with how the open container and alcohol ordinances are handled.
“If you see somebody with a beer can in their hand that is prima facie evidence, they’ve got an open container,” Sisson said. “You see somebody with a cigarette in their mouth, that is prima facie evidence that they are smoking on the beach and you don’t have to wait around to see them stub that cigarette out in the sand to write them a citation.”
Another issue opponents of the ban have raised is that the town might lose business if it bans smoking on the beach strand; however, Sisson said he had not heard of that happening to other municipalities who have banned smoking.
“In fact I think it will attract more of the type of business that we would like to have,” he said. “If it were to pass here it would be national news and so you can bet a whole lot of people would find out about it.”