A bill that would ban smoking on New Jersey public beaches and parks cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when it was released from a state Senate committee.
Having already passed the General Assembly, the bill now needs just one vote in the full Senate before being sent to Gov. Chris Christie's desk.
A smoking ban for beaches and parks would include those that are owned by the state, counties or municipalities, meaning most public beaches. The bill, as cleared on Tuesday, calls for an amendment to the state's Smoke Free Air Act that would levy fines of $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses on violators. Municipalities would – at their discretion – be able to set aside 20 percent of parks or beaches where smoking be allowed.
That portion of the bill was added to the Senate version, prompting opposition from Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, who said the bill was "gutted" in its current form.
"Basically, we can now take 20 percent of our parks and
turn them into ash trays undermining the purpose of the bill," he said, in a statement. "Instead we want a
complete ban on cigarettes at our parks and beaches. Having
smoke free beaches will encourage tourism, while protecting both health and the
environment. Cigarettes are a major source of litter and pollution, while also being
a threat to public safety. A complete ban will not only benefit public health,
but our environment. This amendment is a loophole big enough to throw our ash
tray through, while also turning our parks and beaches into ash trays."
As an example, Tittel's group said Ramapo Reserve in North Jersey could have 600 acres worth of smoking territory under the 20 percent provision.
Still, the committee passed the bill in an 8-0 vote with one abstention. Sponsors cited health risks surrounding secondhand smoke as one of the primary motivators of getting the bill enacted.
"As the harmful effects of second-hand smoke become more evident, we
need to make sure we do all we can to protect those who chose a
healthier lifestyle," Sen. Shirley Turner, a sponsor, told NJ.com.
The bill will now head to the full Senate for a vote should Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Camden) opt to post it.