The state is now moving to ban most smoking not only on its beaches, but also at public parks across New Jersey.
The legislation goes further than a bill moving through the Senate, which would impose a ban only on smoking at public beaches, with the exception of certain areas making up less than 15 percent of the beach.
Anti-smoking groups and environmentalists long have pushed for a comprehensive ban, but were thwarted by former Gov. Chris Christie, who had conditionally vetoed bills to prohibit smoking on public beaches and parks.
Christie eventually backed a ban on state beaches, but argued it should be left up to local officials to police their own public spaces.
“It is certainly long overdue,’’ said Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, whose bill (A-4021), which would have banned smoking at beaches, was combined into an Assembly Tourism committee substitute with two other measures (A-3798/A-1703) that would have prohibited smoking at beaches and public parks throughout the state.
Cigarette filters are among the most common types of litter collected at beaches, according to environmental advocates, who collected an estimated 25,000 cigarette filters from “beach sweeps’’ last year alone.
In New Jersey, more than 18 communities have already banned smoking on beaches, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.
“We shouldn’t be turning our beaches into ashtrays,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which supported the comprehensive ban. “A complete ban will protect not only public health, but the environment.’’
The committee substitute is posted for a vote by the full Assembly at Thursday’s session. Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee yesterday approved a separate measure (S-2534) to ban smoking only at public beaches.
The smoking ban would not including parking lots, and it would allow municipalities to designate up to 15 percent of the beach as a smoking area.
The penalty for violating the law could be up to $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.