LONGPORT – When residents and visitors lounge on the beach this summer, in addition to soaking up the rays, they will be able to breathe a little easier and enjoy a cleaner beach.

On Feb. 22 the Board of Commissioners introduced an ordinance that would ban smoking on public property, including parks, public buildings and the beach.

If the ordinance is approved, lighting up cigarettes and cigars on the beach would be prohibited, and beachgoers would no longer have to deal with breathing smoke mixed in with the sea breeze.

The ordinance would ban smoking to prevent children at play from being exposed to second-hand smoke and the temptation of experimenting with smoking. And there are other stated reasons for enacting the ban.

Mayor Nicholas Russo said he has spoken with officials in Belmar, Monmouth County, where smoking has been banned on the beach and boardwalk for the last four years. He said he believes that health concerns cannot be the only driving force behind approving a ban.

“What is driving the train is the litter and refuse that is coming from tobacco products, including a disproportionate amount of cigarette butts, cigar residue and other tobacco residue identified in the Clean Ocean Action cleanups we do here in Longport twice a year,” he said.

According to legacyforhealth.org, a public health advocacy group, cigarette butts are poisonous when ingested by children, pets and other living organisms. One to two milligrams of nicotine is considered toxic and 10 milligrams can be lethal to children, according to Legacy's report, “The Impact of Tobacco on the Environment.”

In 2008, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 7,310 incidents of potentially toxic exposure in children under 6 years of age, the report stated.

Borough Solicitor Pacifico “Pat” Agnellini informed the commissioners that second-hand smoke is dangerous to bystanders and can be a basis for passing the law.

“We cannot tell someone they cannot smoke because it’s bad for their health, but second-hand smoke is an issue for others,” Agnellini said.

Commissioner Dan Lawler said he had “no problem” with testing out the ordinance this summer.

Russo said that Belmar had established no-smoking areas, but eventually eliminated them and completely banned smoking on the beach. Seaside Park has also had a ban in effect for several years.

The New Jersey Legislature approved a bill last year that extended the New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act to limit smoking to 15 percent of the total beach area, but Gov. Chris Christie, who said he “abhors smoking,” conditionally vetoed the bill in July 2016. He vetoed similar legislation in 2014.

“My view was that a one-size-fits-all approach to prohibiting smoking outdoors at locally-run parks and beaches was an inappropriate encroachment by the state into an area of public policy reserved for local governments,” Christie said at the time.

He said, however, he would support legislation that bans smoking on state-run parks and beaches, but does not interfere with the jurisdiction of local governments.

There are now 300 local towns that have established their own laws banning smoking in outdoor areas.

Engineer Richard Carter, who is an ex-smoker, said the borough should be sensitive to people passing by smokers gathering near the street-end bulkheads to take a few puffs before returning to the beach, fishermen who smoke on the jetties, and littering if the borough does not put out cigarette butt receptacles.

“Every regulation has another issue to deal with. I don’t know how you would police it. I’d be concerned about property owners at the street ends who already have to put up with dog feces, bicycles and now people standing at the end of the street smoking,” Carter said.

Lawler said several Vermont ski resorts he visited recently completely ban smoking.

“There’s no smoking anywhere there and those places are huge,” Lawler said. “We need to make people more aware. I’m all for trying this.”

Signage would be installed on the beach to alert smokers to light up somewhere else, and it would be enforced by police and lifeguards. Violators could face fines of $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

“I don’t think anyone has ever come to a commission meeting and said they want more smoking on the beach,” Russo said.

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 22.

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