Free from the threat posed by former Gov. Chris Christie’s veto pen, a bill to prohibit smoking on public beaches throughout New Jersey has re-emerged.
The new bill, sponsored this time by state Senate President Steven Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), was approved by a legislative committee Thursday and will now make its way for a vote by the full body. Though a 2016 effort to ban beach smoking enjoyed bipartisan support, passing in both houses of the legislature, it was ultimately vetoed by Christie. Observers say Gov. Phil Murphy is significantly more likely to sign such a bill into law.
The renewed proposal spurred praise from environmentalists, who have long complained that cigarettes are not only a health hazard, but end up being disposed of in the sand or even eaten by marine species.
“We shouldn’t be turning our beaches into ashtrays or clouds of air pollution,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. “Secondhand smoke can lead to health impacts, lung cancer, asthma and infections. Children are playing on the beach and they are breathing in secondhand smoke. Cigarettes also present environmental and safety problems, especially with the potential for boardwalk fires.”
“Cigarette butts that litter beaches are not only unsightly, they are hazardous to marine life,” said Gopal. “The filters concentrate toxins and, when eaten by marine life, the poisons are absorbed by fish and wildlife.”
Many towns, including nearly all in Ocean County, ban smoking on beaches to some degree. The new law, however, would supersede local ordinances and ban smoking on all state, county and municipal beaches in New Jersey.
“We don’t want our beautiful beaches to be used as ashtrays,” said Sweeney. “It’s a matter of public health, environmental protection and quality of life.”
The smoking ban would not include beach parking lots and it would allow municipalities to designate up to 15 percent of a beach for permitted smoking, according to the legislation.
A violation of the proposed law would include a fine of at least $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. It would take effect 180 days after enactment.
Smoking bans have slowly come into place across the Shore area. Seaside Heights was one of the first towns to enact a smoking ban, but Lavallette decided to enact a ban beginning this year.