On Friday, July 20th, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that officially bans smoking at most of New Jersey public beaches and parks at the state, county, and municipal levels.  The bill S-2534 which will go into effect in 180 days (January 2019), passed the Senate, 32-1, and the Assembly by 66-1 with two abstentions, expands the “New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006” which bans smoking in indoor public settings.  Sponsors of the bill include Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senators Vin Gopal and Bob Smith and Assembly members Vincent Mazzeo, Clinton Calabrese, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Paul Moriarty.

Towns and counties would create designated smoking areas that could constitute no more than 15 percent of the beach; parking lots adjacent to beaches or parks would not be subject to the ban.  The bill authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), towns and counties to take measures to educate the public about the smoking ban and associated penalties for violators, who would be fined $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

“The Jersey Shore has always been one of our state’s – and nation’s – great natural treasures, and a place for families to enjoy,” said Governor Murphy. “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.”

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the sponsors, said, “This is an issue that impacts the environmental quality of the Jersey Shore, the health of beach-goers exposed to second-hand 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.”

Lawmakers had been trying to ban beach smoking for the last four years, but encountered opposition under the administration of then-Governor Chris Christie.  In July 2014, a bill that would have banned smoking in state parks and limited smoking on beaches overwhelmingly passed the legislature, but Christie vetoed it. Two years later, the governor issued a conditional veto to a renewed smoking ban, prohibiting the practice at New Jersey’s two state-owned beaches while allowing towns to determine their own restrictions.

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. In New Jersey, tobacco use takes the lives of nearly 12,000 residents every year.

Tobacco use is a significant public health threat and a high-risk factor for many diseases, including lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart disease, stroke and asthma. The use of electronic smoking devices may also pose a health risk due to their smoke vapors. In addition, exposure to second-hand smoke is a health hazard for a majority of the non-smoking public and can lead to illness and premature death.

Furthermore, results of the 2017 beach sweep by Clean Ocean Action showed that the litter collected by volunteers last year 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 leeching deadly toxins.

One thing the bill did not address was who would be responsible for enforcing the ban.  The bill does not specify whether lifeguards, police officers, or others will enforce the ban.  Citing their primary mission to save lives of individuals in the water, Governor Murphy said lifeguards should not enforce the law, but he left it to municipalities to determine enforcement measures.

Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy, or GASP, said that more than half of New Jersey’s more than 500 communities already restrict smoking and vaping on their beaches or in their parks.

To read more about the bill’s passage, visit https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562018/approved/20180720a.shtml or https://patch.com/new-jersey/pointpleasant/nj-gov-phil-murphy-signs-smoking-beach-ban-law

Since July 2012, New Jersey regional chronic disease coalitions funded through a grant from the New Jersey Department of Health Office of Cancer Control and Prevention (OCCP) tobacco control organizations such as New Jersey GASP and New Jersey Prevention Network and many others, have worked on the facilitation of no-smoking ordinances, and their efforts along with the perseverance of state legislators have culminated in the signing of a bill that will protect the health and welfare of its residents.