A measure to ban smoking at state beaches and parks has advanced with the approval of the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee.
Those who support the bill (A1080) argue that crossing off another place on the shrinking list of where smoking is permissible will encourage smokers to quit. They say it will set a better example for children. And they see a ban as a way of preventing public property from serving as a vast outdoor ashtray littered with cigarette butts.
New Jersey already prohibits smoking in indoor areas of workplaces, restaurants and bars. More than 200 towns have banned smoking in parks and 14 municipalities do not allow smoking on their beaches.
A state law, says bill sponsor Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-Bergen), would make those various restrictions more consistent. She’s right.
We share the air, the beach and the sea, the forests and parks. But the majority would prefer not to share the 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of them toxic and about 70 that are carcinogenic, contained in secondhand smoke.
A half century after the U.S. surgeon general definitively declared that smoking causes cancer, no one can be unaware of the dangers. Nearly half a million Americans die every year of smoking-related illness. About 40,000 more die from the effects of secondhand smoke.
There is no doubt about the direction the country is taking in the face of those grim statistics. The decision by CVS to forgo an estimated $2 billion in annual sales by no longer stocking tobacco products is a clear signal of changing attitudes trumping the profit margin.
The push to further marginalize smoking in New Jersey will be branded by some as at attempt to extend control of the “nanny state.”
And the argument that the ban is for smokers’ own good does seem bolster that objection. In fact, it may cause the 17 percent of New Jerseyans who still smoke to dig in their heels as they see the further erosion of what most regard as their right to smoke.
If state lawmakers are serious about helping smokers quit a habit as addictive as heroin — and preventing kids from starting — they should insist that revenue from the landmark 1998 settlement between tobacco companies and 40 states be used as intended.
By the end of the budget year ending June 30, New Jersey will have collected about
$947 million from the settlement and the state’s $2.70 tax on each pack of cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the state dedicate about $103 million to smoking-cessation and education efforts.
While most states spent an average of less than 2 cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use, New Jersey spent exactly nothing.