While it may not be beach season, New Jerseyans still enjoy winter walks if the weather is a little milder. But they’ll have to leave their cigarettes behind beginning Wednesday, Jan. 16. On that day, it will become illegal to smoke cigarettes, cigars and pipes – as well as use vapes, or smokeless tobacco devices – in public parks, forests, historic sites and on other state-owned property, or on beaches and boardwalks anywhere in the Garden State.
Violators of the law, one of the most extensive tobacco-use bans in the nation, can be fined up to $1,000.
The law was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in July, at which time he said, “The Jersey Shore has always been one of our state’s – and nation’s – great natural treasures, and a place for families to enjoy. Signing this legislation demonstrates my firm commitment to protecting our environment and public health while preserving the quality and cleanliness of our public beaches and park areas.
“According to the American Lung Association, more than 480,000 people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” Murphy said. “In New Jersey, tobacco use takes the lives of nearly 12,000 residents every year.”
In addition, results of the 2017 beach sweep by Clean Ocean Action showed that the litter collected by volunteers contained more than 29,000 cigarette butts, more than 1,150 lighters, nearly 1,900 empty cigarette packs and 7,172 cigar tips. Cigarette butts threaten marine wildlife as a choking hazard and are capable of leaching deadly toxins.
The bill authorizes the state Department of Environmental Protection, towns and counties to take measures to educate the public about the smoking ban and associated penalties, which can be $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd), one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “This is an issue that impacts the environmental quality of the Jersey Shore, the health of beach-goers exposed to secondhand smoke, the quality of life for residents and visitors, and ultimately, the economic well-being of Shore communities. We don’t want our beaches littered with cigarette butts, the air polluted with smoke or the ocean wildlife exposed to threat of discarded cigarettes.”
Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smoke-Free Policy, called the legislative action “an historic moment.”
“New Jersey will be the first state to make all local, county and state public parks and beaches 100 percent smoke-free and vape-free,” she said. “Once again, New Jersey is a leader when it comes to protecting people from secondhand smoke and creating healthy outdoor environments for children. We are glad that the state is on top of what’s trending in tobacco and nicotine usage, and included e-cigarettes in their bill. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggested that smoke-free policies include bans on using e-cigarettes, in light of the health and safety concerns with the devices, and to help de-normalize e-cigarette use since there’s a tripled increase in youth using e-cigarettes in the USA.”
Blumenfeld said smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death and disease, which is why GASP has worked on smoke-free parks and beaches for more than 15 years, and educated people in hundreds of New Jersey towns on the benefits of making parks and beaches smoke-free.
“More than one-half of New Jersey towns and counties already restrict smoking/vaping in their parks and/or beaches, and we thank the early adopters for trail-blazing, and state leaders for expanding it to all parks and beaches,” she said.
“Finally, we can now breathe easier because the new ban on smoking in beaches and parks will go into effect,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This new law will protect us from secondhand smoke and our communities, clean water, and the environment. Sierra Club came up with this bill 10 years ago. Governor Christie vetoed the bill multiple times but we kept fighting to push the legislation until Governor Murphy signed it into law. Now we won’t have to deal with secondhand smoke while trying to enjoy a day outside. This is especially important for children playing outdoors so they no longer breathe in smoke. Having smoke-free beaches and parks would encourage tourism, while protecting both our health and the environment. Now we will no longer be turning our beaches into ashtrays.”
Blumenthal said that according to GASP’s database, 100 percent smoke-free beaches already exist in Beach Haven, Little Egg Harbor Township and Long Beach Township among numerous other shore communities.
“Many other New Jersey towns and counties also restrict smoking and vaping in their parks and on the beaches,” she said.
For example, Harvey Cedars has restricted smoking between the flags since 2013.
“As a nonsmoker, secondhand smoke offends me,” said borough Commissioner Michael Garofalo, who is public safety chairman. “It will be nice to breathe fresh air and not have to breathe cigarette smoke.”
Lori Pepenella, chief executive officer of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, applauded the legislation.
“When people go to the beach, they want to enjoy the fresh air and natural resources,” she said. “Also, our beaches get littered with cigarette butts, which is very unsightly, and now our beaches and parks will be completely smoke-free and a lot cleaner.”
— Eric Englund