OCEAN CITY -- Diane Hafferman figured she was safe -- she was outside, after all -- but as she stood along the windswept beach here, cigarette in hand, she began to wonder if a place where people come to relax would continue to be so easygoing about her habit.
Maryland residents are just getting used to a smoking ban imposed Feb. 1 in restaurants and bars, but the public debate over lighting up may not end with inside spaces. A small Delaware town is preparing to ban smoking on its beach and boardwalk, and other municipalities along the coast are taking notice.
Cigarette butts add to beach clean-up efforts -- they usually have to be picked up by hand, rather than by a machine -- and the smoke can bother tourists sitting downwind, ban proponents say. Others counter that prohibiting smoking outdoors, even in crowded areas like boardwalks and beaches, is the height of government intrusion.
"If you're going to ban smoking on the beach, what they should do is just make it illegal," Hafferman, a 41-year-old Bel Air resident, said of smoking generally. "I want to quit smoking, so they can just make it illegal. I'm not going to go underground to buy cigarettes. Purses, maybe, but not cigarettes."
The town council of Bethany Beach, Del. -- about 15 miles north of Ocean City -- voted last week to draft smoking prohibitions for the beach and boardwalk during the summer and for the parks and bandstand all year. Eight designated smoking areas would be created along the back of the beach.
Bethany Beach Mayor Carol Olmstead said the council decided to advance the proposal after hearing complaints from residents. The council defeated a more restrictive version of the measure before approving the compromise, she said.
"We are talking about very crowded areas," Olmstead said, adding that the council will take a final vote on the measure later this year after reviewing its specifics. "So many people do not approve of smoking."
Maryland enacted a smoking ban last year -- following the lead of its most populous municipalities, including Montgomery County and Baltimore City -- and the prohibition took effect Feb. 1. It applies to most public places, including bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and taxicabs, but not outdoor areas.
In Ocean City yesterday, a large crowd strolled along the boardwalk -- few ventured onto the sand -- as families took advantage of the long weekend. A handful of tourists smoked, ducking between buildings to shield their lighters from the wind.
Al "Popeye" Wendling, 72, who has owned Pop's Joke Shop just off the Boardwalk for 25 years, said he supports the idea, but thinks a ban could never be enforced in Ocean City, which is larger than Bethany Beach.
"It'd be cleaner. Second-hand smoke's a problem -- I have a problem with it," said Wendling, who smoked for 40 years before developing cancer. "But who's going to enforce it? You're talking 8 million people here a season. How will they stop it?"
Susan Manns, 56, said her problem with the ban is more fundamental: She doesn't believe second-hand smoke is that big of a problem, if it's outside.
"As long as you're outdoors and a breeze is blowing, I don't understand it," said Manns, who is from Stewartstown, Pa. "I can understand the restaurants -- okay, fine -- but when you're outdoors or you're in the privacy of your own home?"
Ocean City Mayor Richard W. Meehan said there have been no official discussions about replicating the Bethany ban at Maryland's best-known beach, but he said the debate might take place, if people become more accustomed to the statewide regulations.
Meehan, who repeatedly called Maryland's ban "a first step," noted that Delaware residents have had years to adapt to smoking regulations -- the state was one of the first to go smoke free.
"I think probably what we'll do in Ocean City is wait and watch what happens," Meehan said. "I've had people ask me if bans are possible on the beach and the boardwalk, but there's really never been any detailed discussion about that."
Susan L. Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said in an e-mail that the group has never considered the idea and she doubted any of its members would support a ban.
"It would be impossible to enforce [and] regulate on our expansive 10 miles of beach," she wrote. "It is far more important for our beach patrol to be watching the swimmers than to be worrying about who is smoking."
Dave Sheehan, who lives in Wilmington, sat alone on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach yesterday staring out at the sea as he smoked. He said he opposes the ban, but that if it were approved he wouldn't switch beaches or make any other changes.
"I think it's an infringement on people's rights," said Sheehan, 54. "My feeling is, in a restaurant, you're there for a half hour to an hour eating your dinner and then you're gone. Down on the beach, you come down here and spend half a day."
Sun reporter Chris Guy contributed to this article.