Christie vetoes smoking ban for all beaches, endorses one for state parks

Michael Symons, NJ101.5

It’s likely that smoking will be banned at state forests and parks, including Island Beach, starting next year, though a veto by Gov. Chris Christie has again blocked a blanket prohibition that would cover all local beaches and parks in New Jersey.

Christie announced Friday night that he had conditionally vetoed a proposed statewide smoking ban at public beaches and parks. But this veto was different than his 2014 veto on the same topic: He said he’d support a smoking ban at state-owned beaches and parks.

“I abhor smoking. But I continue to believe that the state should not impose its will upon our local governments, and instead continue to leave it up to towns and counties whether to ban smoking in their parks and beaches,” Christie said in his veto message.

“State parks and beaches are another matter,” he said. “… In light of the Legislature’s continued interest in this area, I am willing to endorse a measure that bans smoking at state-run parks and beaches, but that does not interfere with parks and beaches within the jurisdiction of local governments.”

New Jersey has 11 state forests and 28 state parks, including one beach, Island Beach State Park, in Ocean County.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, wasn’t happy.

“I know that he thinks he has compromised by allowing state parks and beaches to have a smoking ban. However, this really should be afforded to all beaches and parks,” said Vainieri Huttle, saying there are environmental and health benefits to restricting smoking.

Vainieri Huttle said doesn’t yet know if lawmakers will seek to enact the ban by overriding Christie’s veto, but she indicated the veto won’t be the final word on the subject.

“That’s always been a challenge,” Vainieri Huttle said. “I will talk to the sponsors and find out if we have the muster to do an override. If not, obviously we will take this and then continue to advocate within the next couple of years.”

The bill was passed 25-6 in the Senate and 52-6 with three abstentions in the Assembly. Such margins aren’t sufficient to override a veto, though around one-fourth of lawmakers didn’t cast votes.

The version of the bill that Christie vetoed in 2014 had passed 30-3 in the Senate and 63-8 with five abstentions in the Assembly. Those margins would be large enough to override a veto.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network urged lawmakers to override the veto, but Ethan Hasbrouck, its government relations director, said the group would support whatever decision the bill’s sponsors make.

“While we certainly do appreciate him agreeing to ban smoking at state parks and beaches, we were hoping that he would sign the entire bill to protect all patrons of all parks and beaches in New Jersey,” said Hasbrouck, who called the veto disappointing.

“This bill is a no-brainer,” Hasbrouck said. “The goal for this public policy should be to protect all patrons from the dangers of second-hand smoke at our parks and beaches.”

Many local governments have already taken that step.

Christie said, in his veto message, that around 300 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities have banned smoking in their beaches or parks. The American Cancer Society said 14 of the state’s 21 counties have done the same for their sites.

Among the towns with smoke-free beaches are Beach Haven, Belmar, Cape May Point, Harvey Cedars, Island Heights, Long Beach Township, Long Branch, Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Ship Bottom and Spring Lake.

Vainieri Huttle said New Jerseyans want a wider smoking ban, pointing to results from a May poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University that found 74 percent of adults favor making the vast majority of New Jersey beaches smoke free.

“This governor is failing to listen once again, and he’s failing to take leadership on this issue,” Vainieri Huttle said. “… There’s a cry from the public that really wants to ban smoking at these wonderful, beautiful parks and beaches in New Jersey.”

The bill vetoed by Christie wouldn’t have been a complete ban, as it would have allowed towns to set aside up to 15 percent of a beach for smoking. It also exempted golf courses and wouldn’t have applied in the recreational facilities’ parking lots.

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.

The ban would apply to electronic cigarettes.

It would take effect 180 days after being enacted.