Bill Would Ban Lighting Up at Public Parks and Beaches

Backers contend that prohibiting smoking would safeguard public health, cut down on litter, and reduce threat of forest fires

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen)
It could be tougher to grab a smoke in New Jersey, especially if you are outside in a public place. Smoking is already forbidden in restaurants, bars, and workplaces. Now, it may be banned at public parks and beaches in New Jersey.

With bipartisan support, the Assembly yesterday easily approved a bill (A-1080) prohibiting smoking at the state’s parks and beaches, a measure proponents said would protect public health, reduce litter, and curb the threat of potentially devastating forest fires.

“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the state and the nation, and tobacco smokes constitutes a substantial health hazard to the nonsmoking majority of the public,’’ said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the sponsor of the bill.

“The prohibition of smoking at public parks and beaches would better preserve the natural assets of this state by reducing litter and increasing fire safety in those areas,’’ she said.

The bill, approved by a 64-7 vote, with four legislators abstaining, would apply to any state park or forest, county or municipal park, or state or municipal beach, but would not include any parking lot that is adjacent to but outside the park or beach. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“It’s clearly in the public interest to expand the law prohibiting smoking in all enclosed indoor places of public access and workplaces to all public parks and beaches,’’ said Angelica Jimenez (D-Hudson), a co-sponsor. “This is a commonsense approach to maintain the beauty and pristine quality of our parks and beaches, while also protecting public health.’’

The bill drew support from the New Jersey Sierra Club, which noted that in a recent beach cleanup day sponsored by the group, it picked up more than 500 cigarettes. Some towns already have put in bans on smoking on beaches and boardwalks, the organization noted.

“Cigarettes are a major source of litter and pollution, while also being a threat to public safety,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the conservation group. “This will make our beaches and parks cleaner and greener, while also making our experiences outdoors much more enjoyable.’’

Tittle said careless smokers in parks have caused damage to picnic areas, historic building, and even forest fires.

Under the bill, people who violate the smoking ban would be liable to a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each additional offense. It is similar to fines imposed on smokers who violate bans on smoking in public places.