Smoking would be banned at all public beaches and parks in New Jersey under a bill approved by the New Jersey Assembly on Thursday.
The 64-7 vote, with four abstentions, now sends the measure to the state Senate, where a vote has not yet been scheduled.
The bill is designed to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke at beaches and parks, cut down on litter and improve fire safety in those public areas. Smoking would still be allowed in parking lots near beaches and parks.
"Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the state and the nation, and tobacco smoke constitutes a substantial health hazard to the nonsmoking majority of the public," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, a Bergen County Democrat. "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, while lessening exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke among the public. This is the right thing to do."
Violators could get a $250 fine for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.
"People enjoying a day on the beach, a jog, bike ride, or a walk shouldn't have to deal with secondhand smoke," said Jeff Tittel, director of the new jersey Sierra Club. "It also could be dangerous with some people failing to completely put out their cigarette butts, leading to people stepping on it, or even boardwalk fires. Careless smokers in parks have also caused damage to picnic areas, historic buildings, and even forest fires,"
The bill would require the state's health and environmental protection departments to come up with rules to implement the ban. It would take effect six months after passage.
Some beach towns already have banned smoking on their sands, including Seaside Park, Long Branch, and Sunset Beach in Cape May Point. Belmar is set to give final approval to its own beach smoking ban next month.
And more than a third of New Jersey's municipalities have laws on the books that restrict smoking in parks and recreational areas.
The state's Smokefree Air Act already prohibits outdoor smoking on any property where a school-sponsored activity occurs.