Assembly Panel Approves Vainieri Huttle Bill to Help Towns Crack Down on Smoking Ban without Criminalizing Smokers

An Assembly panel has approved legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle that will help towns crack down on smoking in public places without criminalizing smokers.  

Specifically, the bill (A-2368) authorizes a municipality to adopt an ordinance that provides a civil penalty of up to $200 for smoking in a public place without the option for incarceration of up to 30 days that exists under current law.

"Everybody should be entitled to breathe air free of smoke," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This would tweak our current law to make sure there's a clear enough disincentive to prevent people from violating the Smoke-Free Air Act without criminalizing smokers and threatening to throw them in jail."

Current law limits the discretion of a municipality in regard to imposing a penalty for smoking in public places by requiring that the penalty be for a petty disorderly persons offense, which would include imprisonment for up to 30 days or a criminal fine of up to $200, or both.

This bill provides a municipality with the option to adopt an ordinance that penalizes smoking in a public place without making it a criminal offense or subjecting an offender to possible incarceration while still permitting the municipality to make the activity a disorderly persons offense as it is authorized to do under current law. 

The bill was approved Thursday by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. If enacted, it would take effect immediately.