N.J. Assembly committees advance tobacco bills

John C. Ensslin, The Record

A pair of state Assembly committees on Monday cleared two tobacco-related bills that Governor Christie vetoed in the last legislative session.

A bill that would raise the minimum age for legal sales of tobacco products or e-cigarettes was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services committee by a 10-3 vote with Assembly members Betty Lou DeCroce, R-Morris; Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon and Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale, casting the dissenting votes.

Another measure that would ban smoking from public parks and beaches won approval from the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts committee by a 6-0 vote with Assemblyman R-Bruce Land, D-Cape May, abstaining.

The bill raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products passed both houses late in the last legislative session and was among several dozen bills on which Christie exercised his pocket veto in January.

Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors Smokefree Policy (GASP) said by moving the bill early in the current session it can address a comment by Christie spokeswoman Joelle Farrell that the rush of bills approved at the last minute was “never a good formula for effectively doing public business.”

If the law were adopted, New Jersey would join Hawaii as the two states to set legal tobacco sales at 21 years of age. Meanwhile, 16 towns in New Jersey have adopted similar measures including the Bergen County towns of Bergenfield, Bogota, East Rutherford, Englewood, Garfield, Rutherford, Teaneck, Tenafly, Westwood and Wyckoff and Paterson in Passaic County.

As for the public outdoor smoking ban, the bill would forbid smoking in state, county and municipal parks while limiting county and municipal officials to setting aside no more than 15 percent of a public beach as a non-smoking area.

When Christie first vetoed that measure in September 2014 he described it as a “one-size-fits-all state ban,” and said the decision ought to be left up to local officials.

According to Blumenfeld, several shore towns have banned smoking on their beaches including Long Branch, Ocean Grove, Belmar, Spring Lake, Seaside Park, Avon, Sea Girt, Somers Point and Cape May Point.