This summer could be last in which smokers can light up on a public beach in New Jersey.

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted Thursday to advance a bill that would impose fines, starting at $250, for smoking at public beaches, and it’s possible the statewide ban could take effect by early next year.

Some lawmakers have advocated for a ban on smoking on public beaches for so long that state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, joked that the bill is “300 years old” – and way overdue.

“From the point of view of health, saving the costs of cleaning beaches by the local towns, it’s just a grand slam home run winner,” Smith said. “And we believe the people of New Jersey want to see it that way. They want to see their beaches as clean as possible.”

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed earlier versions of the bill in 2014 and 2016. Smith said that in the meantime, 18 towns have adopted bans like the one that would go statewide.

In the 2016 veto, Christie rewrote the proposal to allow smoking to be banned in state parks and on state beaches, but the Legislature never voted to approve the revised bill.

Smith expects Gov. Phil Murphy would sign it.

“We have 133 miles of beaches. Tourism is our second biggest industry. We should be doing everything we can to keep our beaches clean,” Smith said.

No one spoke Thursday against the bill, which advanced unanimously.

Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter, said a smoking ban is needed in part to end second-hand smoke exposure, particularly for children, but also because smokers “turn our beaches into an ashtray.”

“We’ve seen instances where somebody doesn’t put their cigarette out properly and someone’s walking barefoot on the beach and they end up getting a burn,” Tittel said.

“The time is long overdue,” he said. “And I think people, when they go on their beaches, they want to sit there and enjoy the clean water and the beautiful view and not have to worry about second-hand smoke or stepping on somebody’s cigarette butt.”

In beach sweeps last year, Clean Ocean Action volunteers picked up more than 39,000 pieces of smoking-related debris, including 29,000 cigarette filters and 7,200 cigar tips.

“It’s not just good health. It’s also we have a terrible problem with that kind of litter on our beaches,” Smith said. “We have some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, but we really need to clean this problem up.”

The proposal would put in place the same fine structure that applies for violating the indoor workplace smoking ban that applies in restaurants, bars and other places: $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second and then $1,000 going forward.

The smoking ban would not include beach parking lots and it would allow municipalities to designate up to 15 percent of a beach for permitted smoking, according to the legislation.

The bill, S2534, heads next to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The companion legislation hasn’t yet been heard this session in the Assembly.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com