NJ Senate to vote on beach smoking ban

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TRENTON - New Jersey’s beaches are a step closer to becoming smoke-free, after a state Senate committee unanimously passed a bill amending the “New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act,” which bans indoor smoking in public places.

On Monday, May 19, the bill sponsored by State Senator Shirley Turner was sent to the New Jersey Senate for a vote. If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Christie, most smoking on the state’s beaches would be subject to a fine of $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for all subsequent offenses.

The bill is designed to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke and aims to eliminate a source of litter that plagues the beaches. An amendment added to the proposed Senate bill, in contrast to the previously passed Assembly bill, allows municipalities to designate as much as 20 percent of a beach as a special smoking section.

For years now, cigarette butts have been the primary item picked up by volunteers cleaning the beaches, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The approval by the Senate committee took place as towns up and down the Jersey shore prepared for the annual influx of tourists flocking to the beaches for Memorial Day weekend.

When the state assembly passed a similar bill in March, supporting the measure 64-7, local business and civic leaders expressed their approval for the bill’s aims but doubted the state’s ability to enforce such a law.

“As we recognized last year when debating a similar partial ban on our beaches, this new law will likely present some challenging enforcement issues,” said Brigantine Councilman Rick DeLucry.

Councilwoman Lisa McClay agreed with DeLucry that beachgoers would benefit from pristine air and beach sand, and pointed out that cigarette butts are harmful to wildlife.

“My main concern would be the enforcement of the ban and the hefty violation fees proposed,” she said.

Local realtor Linda Corbin suggested designating certain beaches for smoking and others for non-smoking, rather than banning the practice entirely.

“People go the beach as a form of relaxation, to get away from it all. Smoking, whether it be cigars or cigarettes, is a form of relaxation for many people,” Corbin said. “To deny them of a simple pleasure is not fair.”

Chamber of Commerce President Michael Brennan called the proposed restriction ‘grandstanding’ by the state and unhelpful in attracting more tourists, pointing to the Revel Casino’s failure to uphold its intention to be completely smoke-free.

“Discarding cigarette butts in the sand is littering and littering is already covered in our local code,” Brennan said. I would like to remind people who smoke, and all beachgoers, that responsible disposal of their waste will have a positive impact on our marine habitat and assist our City in keeping our pristine beaches clean.”

According to Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy, more than a third of New Jersey’s municipalities have laws on the books that restrict smoking in parks and recreational areas.

Blumenfeld said some beach towns have banned smoking on their sands, including Seaside Park, Long Branch and Sunset Beach in Cape May Point.

If the full Senate approves the bill and it is signed into law, a beach smoking ban could be in effect as early as July 4 this year.

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