Legislation would ban smoking on beach

Beach-going smokers may have to curb their habit outdoors, under proposals Trenton lawmakers discussed Thursday.

Members of a Senate committee on health, human services and senior citizens spent Thursday afternoon debating how a ban on smoking at beaches and parks might work.

They took up the issue as three separate bills arrived in committee. Taken together, the three would block smoking at most beaches, as well as parks and forests and even racetracks.

But legislators ultimately held the bills in order to amend and combine them, as they traded conflicting definitions of what areas might be covered.

Medical experts discussed how banning smoking would reduce second-hand smoke. Dr. Fred Jacobs, former New Jersey health commissioner, representing a coalition of health organizations, told the committee that the research on the dangers of second-hand smoke is “indisputable.”

The argument for regulating the breezy shoreline the same way as enclosed public spaces are regulated rested on reducing young people’s exposure to smoking habits, Jacobs said.

Dr. Marc Steinberg, from the state-supported New Jersey Quitcenters, said the move would reduce temptation for would-be quitters.

But legislators struggled to define where the laws’ boundaries might end.

“Now all of a sudden, you’re allowed to smoke in knee-deep water,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, raising the possibility of smokers who might try to get off beach and into the surf to have a cigarette.

Advocates for the bill responded by wondering whether standing on the underwater sand still counted as state land.

Whelan said he remained skeptical about the plan that would clear smokers off wide beaches such as in Wildwood without providing nearby designated smoking areas.

Environmental group representatives, including Cindy Ziff, of Clean Ocean Action, and John Weber, of Surfrider, also gave testimony about how visitors use a beach as an ashtray.

Weber told the committee that a chemicals from a smoked cigarette butt, dissolved in a liter of water, had been found to be poisonous to fish.

Ziff, whose group regularly takes counts of litter on the beach, said that a $100 fine for every cigarette butt flicked could pay for environmental programs within the town.

But other areas would be affected under the collected legislation: One of the bills, introduced by state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, would include outdoor sections or racetracks under the ban.

State State Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, said county golf courses should be exempted.

State Sen. Bill Baroni, R-Middlesex, Mercer, posed several questions to one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, asking for further explanation of whether boardwalks and cemeteries would be included.

Officials from the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority declined to comment on the beach smoking ban, saying they don’t have enough information about where exactly smoking would be banned to make a comment.

One young nonsmoker who celebrated the proposal was Chelsea DiStefano, who said she and her group, Rebel, picked up 3,000 cigarette butts on a recent clean-up outing.

Committee chair Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said that the bills will be amended and merged into one piece of legislation, and then come back for committee discussion.

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