By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY AND DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Come Jan. 16, Downbeach towns will have a message for smokers: Get your butts off our beaches.
A new state law taking effect on that day bans smoking at New Jersey’s beaches and parks, but it includes a provision that allows municipalities to set aside small areas where people can still light up. Towns will have the option of imposing a full ban or designating smoking areas on 15 percent of their beaches. Vaping is also prohibited on the beaches under the new law.
One big question remains for all towns no matter whether they go completely smoke-free or allow smoking on a limited basis: Who will enforce the law? Senate President Steve Sweeney, who sponsored the legislation, has suggested that lifeguards or local police officers could handle enforcement, but left it up to shore towns to decide.
“We asked our city solicitor to review the law and all its details,” Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “We don’t want the lifeguards to have to enforce it. They are supposed to be watching the water.”
Banning smoking on the beach could cause people to light up on the boardwalk, which serves as an exercise route for walkers, runners and bicyclists. Ventnor currently has no regulations about smoking on the boardwalk.
Holtzman is also concerned about the cost of enforcing the ban.
“Are we supposed to hire new people to enforce it?” she said.
The city hires special Class II officers during the summer season who could help with enforcement, she said.
It is also not clear if local municipalities will have to erect signage or conduct advertising campaigns to educate beachgoers about the ban.
Longport adopted its ban on smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes and electronic devices on the beach and in public parks and playgrounds on March 22, 2017 and before the summer season started, residents of the 9600 Atlantic Avenue Condominium Association in Margate, which is located close to the Longport border, asked city officials follow Longport’s lead and ban smoking on the beach. Resident Wendy Dickstein presented the Margate Board of Commissioners with a petition with 150 signatures supporting a ban.
Commissioner John Amodeo called it a “great concept,” but expressed concern about how the city could enforce such a ban.
“It could create an issue with the lifeguards not doing their job protecting the people in the water,” he said.
Although he said he sympathized with those who hate to smell smoke, Margate Mayor Michael Becker said he didn’t believe in passing laws that could not be enforced and the commission took no action. Now, the commissioners will have to discuss how they will enforce the state ban before the summer season rolls around.
Longport Police Chief Frank Culmone said the borough’s smoking ban has been a non-issue for local police.
“We have not cited anyone over the last two summers,” he said. “There were a couple of issues where people were not aware of the ban, but it required no police involvement.”
He said lifeguards were alerted by other beachgoers that someone was smoking, “but when the lifeguards informed them of the ban, they were compliant,” Culmone said.
He said he schedules a Class I police officer for the beach during busy hours, but there have never been any tickets issued.
Clean Ocean Action, an environmental group that oversees community beach cleanups in New Jersey each year, reported that more than 29,000 cigarette butts were picked up in 2017, accounting for about 8 percent of all the litter removed from the state’s shoreline.
Sustainable Margate member Steve Jasiecki told Longport commissioners that most of the trash picked up on the beach during semi-annual beach sweeps conducted by local green teams is cigarette butts.
“A lot of people use the beach like one large ashtray,” Jasiecki said, expressing concern for small children and sea life who might ingest a butt filled with toxic chemicals.
Beach tag inspectors could be tapped to enforce the smoking ban, but many are too young to deal with confrontational smokers, officials said.
For those caught smoking on the beach, fines start at $250 for a first offense and go up to $1,000 for a third offense.
The timing of the smoking ban gives municipalities several months to prepare for the arrival of the peak summer beach season. However, the ban officially starts on Jan. 16, so even someone strolling a nearly deserted beach will be subject to the ban.
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