New Jersey bans smoking on beaches and in parks

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New Jersey's governor has signed a bill banning smoking at public beaches and parks unless local communities explicitly opt out and set aside a small smoking section. (WPVI)

Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill banning smoking at the state's public beaches and parks, but local communities can opt out and set aside small smoking sections.

The Democratic governor on Friday signed a measure that was passed by the state Legislature last month. While advertised as a ban, it still leaves room for towns to permit smoking in designated areas of their beaches and parks.

Like previous versions of the bill that failed, the bill doesn't specify who would be responsible for enforcing it: lifeguards, police or someone else. Murphy said it shouldn't be lifeguards, but he left it to towns to decide enforcement measures.

"A lifeguard is there to save lives, first and foremost, for people in the water," Murphy said. "I don't want to add an extra burden to the lifeguard and take him or her away from their primary mission."

But state Senate President Steve Sweeney, who sponsored the bill, said lifeguards or local police could be called on to enforce the ban when people complain.

"We don't want to be disrespectful to people who smoke, but we want smokers to be respectful to everyone else who uses the beach, too," said Sweeney, a Democrat.

The ban, which takes effect in January, also prohibits vaping involving the use of electronic smoking devices on beaches or in parks. It allows towns to set up designated smoking areas of 15 percent of a beach or park. Smokers also would be allowed to light up in parking lots.

Fines would start at $250 for a first offense and go up to $1,000 for a third offense.

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

People strolling on the Long Branch boardwalk generally supported the ban, even while expressing concern about the limited options available to smokers.

"Smoking is bad for everyone - people who smoke and people who don't," said Angelo Graci, who was riding his bicycle near the beach. "I used to smoke 40 years ago, but I stopped because I worked construction, and asbestos and smoking is about the worst combination there could be."

Lynne Grossman, of Monroe Township, disagreed with the ban.

"I think people should be able to smoke on the beach," she said. "They can't smoke almost anywhere else."

Leanora Cousins, of Franklin Park, said the law, as enacted, is a good compromise between the rights of smokers and nonsmokers.

"If you are someone who is bothered by smoking, if they set aside a separate area for smoking that should solve the problem," said Cousins, a former smoker. "There's not a lot of places people can smoke these days."

Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Clean Ocean Action environmental group, noted that volunteers picked up more than 29,000 cigarette filters from New Jersey beaches during two cleanups last year.

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