New Jersey Beaches, Parks Going Smoke-Free

Jul 25, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

By this time next year, people coming to Long Beach Island won't have to be concerned about getting a whiff of cigarette smoke while enjoying the beaches. On July 20, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation prohibiting smoking at public beaches and parks in New Jersey. The bill updates the “New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006,” in which smoking was banned in any indoor public or work place.

“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 Murphy in a press release following the 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.”

The release said tobacco use is a significant public health threat and a high-risk factor for many diseases, including lung cancer, 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 secondhand smoke is a health hazard for a majority of the non-smoking public and can lead to illness and premature death.

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

In addition, results of the 2017 beach sweep by Clean Ocean Action showed that the litter collected by volunteers 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 leaching deadly toxins.

“By this time next year, the only smell most New Jersey beachgoers will be enjoying will be the scent of salt air and maybe the aroma of some grilled sausage, French fries, funnel cakes wafting off the boardwalks,” Murphy said. “These are the smells from which Jersey Shore memories are made, not cigarette butts.”

The bill authorizes the state Department of Environmental Protection, towns and counties to take measures to educate the public about the smoking ban and associated penalties, which can be $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. The ban will go into effect in 180 days. 

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement, “This is an issue that impacts the environmental quality of the Jersey Shore, the health of beach-goers exposed to secondhand 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.”

Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smoke-Free Policy, called the legislative action “an historic moment.”

“New Jersey will be the first state to make all local, county and state public parks and beaches 100 percent smoke-free and vape-free,” she said. “Once again, New Jersey is a leader when it comes to protecting people from secondhand smoke and creating healthy outdoor environments for children. We are glad that the state is on top of what’s trending in tobacco and nicotine usage, and included e-cigarettes in their bill. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggested that smoke-free policies include bans on using e-cigarettes, in light of the health and safety concerns with the devices, and to help de-normalize e-cigarette use since there’s a tripled increase in youth using e-cigarettes in the USA.”

Blumenfeld said smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death and disease, which is why GASP has worked on smoke-free parks and beaches for more than 15 years, and educated hundreds of New Jersey towns on the benefits of making parks and beaches smoke-free.

“More than one-half of New Jersey towns and counties already restrict smoking/vaping in their parks and/or beaches, and we thank the early adopters for trail-blazing, and state leaders for expanding it to all parks and beaches,” she said.

Also promoting smoke-free beaches and parks were the Ocean Monmouth Health Alliance and the New Jersey Prevention Network. Dana O’Connor, public health nurse supervisor for the Long Beach Island Health Department, is active with both groups.

“We’ve worked on campaigns, educating the public about smoking and secondhand smoke,” said O’Connor. “On the beaches, I was especially concerned about people affected by second hand smoke, especially children and older adults with COPD. It gets breezy on the beach, so all that smoke gets blown around.”

Blumenthal noted the law does give towns an option of keeping no more than 15 percent of a park or beach available for smoking.

“That would have to be enacted by a local ordinance,” she said. “So far, I don’t know of any town that plans on doing that, and hopefully they won’t.”

She said according to GASP’s database, 100 percent smoke-free beaches already exist in Beach Haven, Little Egg Harbor Township and Long Beach Township among numerous other shore communities.

“Many other New Jersey towns and counties also restrict smoking and vaping in their parks and on the beaches,” she said.

For example, Harvey Cedars restricts smoking between the flags, authorized by an ordinance adopted in 2013.

“I like having a complete ban,” said Harvey Cedars Borough Commissioner Michael Garofalo. “As a nonsmoker, secondhand smoke offends me. When you go to the beach, you should enjoy the fresh air and not have to breathe cigarette  smoke.”

He said the ban would be enforced by seasonal police officers.

Beach Haven beaches and parks have been completely smoke-free since 2016.

“We have signs posted all over the beach entrances and the parks,” said Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis. “I’d say 99 percent of the people are complying. When we first discussed this, we thought of beaches having some smoking stations, but we realized that it’s best to ban smoking altogether.”

Barnegat Township has outlawed smoking at the public dock and bay beach, among other areas. “Smoking is unhealthy,” said Mayor Frank Caputo. “We don’t want to have people subjected to secondhand smoke when enjoying the outdoors.”

Lori Pepenella, chief executive officer of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, applauded the signing.

“When people go to the beach, they want to enjoy the fresh air and natural resources,” she said. “Also, our beaches get littered with cigarette butts, which is very unsightly, and now our beaches and parks will be completely smoke-free and a lot cleaner.”

— Eric Englund

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