Christie agrees to smoking ban in state parks, beaches

Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie agreed Friday night to prohibit smoking at state-owned parks and beaches, but he stopped short of signing into law a broader ban extending to county and local recreational sites.

Christie offered the Democratic-controlled Legislature a compromise rather than vetoing the bill outright as he did two years ago.

Both houses of the Legislature would have to agree to Christie's changes and vote on an amended version for the limited ban to take effect.

"I abhor smoking," Christie said in his conditional veto message. "But I continue to believe that the state should not impose its will upon our local governments."

Some 300 of New Jersey's 565 municipalities and a dozen of its 21 counties have banned smoking in their parks and beaches, the governor noted.

Christie said he didn't agree with the legislation's approach to the issue because it required towns to post no smoking signs at the entrances to all parks and beaches, "and enforce the ban under threat of fines for failing to do so."

"In light of the Legislature's continue interest in this area, I am willing to endorse a measure than bans smoking at state-run parks and beaches, but doesn't interfere with parks and beaches within the jurisdiction of local governments," according to his veto message.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the bill's sponsors, said she would discuss Christie's proposed changes with the other the sponsors to see how they want to proceed. But she wasn't happy with his actions.

"Again he fails to take leadership on this issue. A healthy trip to the beach or park shouldn't depend on who is running it," Huttle said. "According to a recent poll New Jersey has spoken they want smoke free beaches. I guess he isn't listening once again."

Lead Senate sponsor Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) signaled she would continue fighting for a broader smoking ban but was also encouraged by the governor's proposal.

"While I am disappointed that the ban will not be extended to all New Jersey parks and beaches, the governor has taken a step in the right direction," Turner said in a statement Saturday.

There are 39 state parks and forests, including one beach — Island Beach State Park, a narrow barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay in Seaside Park, according to the state website.

The bill (A893) called for prohibiting smoking at any state park or forest, county or municipal park, or state or municipal beach, although it permitted visitors to light up in parking lots.

The ban also applied to vaping electronic cigarettes.

Violators would have paid a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for additional offenses, the bill said.