The next time you hit the beaches while visiting the Jersey shore this summer, look over your shoulder if you light up, or be prepared to pay a huge fine.
The smoking ban bill was delayed by the state Senate in the New Jersey legislature Friday, according to the Associated Press. Back in April, the Assembly approved the ban. Senate made an alteration that will make 80 percent of each individual beach smoke-free. Smokers would face a $250 fine for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for more violations.
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Believe it or not, that’s still not good enough for some anti-smoking crusaders. Jen Miller of Philly Mag wrote a piece recently criticizing the amendment to the law for not being strict enough.
“Remember what restaurants in Philadelphia were like before indoor smoking was banned? How smoke-free was your non-smoking section? And that was without a stiff beach wind thrown into the mix,” Miller wrote.
Total nonsense. Studies have found outdoor second hand smoke is usually less risky and varies depending on how close someone is to the smoker. The farther someone is the less potential harm.
The long and contentious debate over whether to ban smoking on beaches for local municipalities isn’t new. Several places ban smoking on beaches already. But many others do not ban it, and in some places, there are already smoke-free zones. I’m OK with that variety but not this new state law. Here’s why:
I was born and raised in South Jersey. Where I went to high school in Ocean City, alcohol isn’t even allowed to be served; it’s a completely dry town.
Ocean City happens to be one of the most popular family-oriented beach resorts in the state. It wouldn’t be kosher for Snooki-esque wannabes to flail around drunk in the streets at night yelling God knows what. If you want something of that variety, all you have to do is drive 25 minutes down the road to Wildwood. And if you want to gamble, eat some fine dining and check out the club scene, go to Atlantic City.
That’s part of the reason people love South Jersey so much. You can visit several different shore spots in a close radius and have three hugely distinct experiences. They each have unique cultures, different vibes and they have different opinions on banning smoking. Of course not all local laws are reasonable. For example, Wildwood recently established one of the most stupidly silly laws in New Jersey — banning baggy pants on their boardwalk. I can’t even begin to comprehend what went through those councilmen’s minds when they passed that law.
However, this state smoking ban is even more important and far worse than that, because it sets the standard for the whole state. It’s an affront to that very concept of local communities making these very important decisions — uniformity, or else. I’m a smoker, and I’ve written often about the current crackdown on smoking. For example, in April, the Philadelphia City Council banned e-cigarette vaping in some indoor places, citing a heal hazard that isn’t real, another terrible call.
This brings me to my next point about human nature.
Sure, Ocean City is a dry town without a single bar to be found in its city limits, but if you drive over the bridge, guess what you see? A liquor store. Alcohol sales inside the city are underground. The hidden secret many locals know, like in Prohibition days, Ocean City has a history of speakeasy joints. Of course, as kids im school, we didn’t know it. I didn’t find out until I heard about it from a former Press of Atlantic City reporter who was telling tales of his reporting days.
Human nature’s rule of thumb is that people will do what they want to with their own bodies. Just take a look at the costly war on drugs.
So what does that mean? A lot of tickets will be written for this new law — cha-ching! That’s right — you tourists, or as locals loving call you, “shoobies” — you are a cash cow that needs to be milked. It’s bad enough driving down to South Jersey, which is a game of sharks and minnows between the state police and tourists. Soon this smoking law will be another smack in the face to some tourists.
I can imagine the absurd scene now: an officer attempting to explain to a poor French Canadian, smoking while on vacation, that he has to pay the $250 fine.
“Quelle?” He asks.
“Your cigarette, it’s not — Come with me, sir.”
In the end, it just a few bad apples ruining it for the rest of us, whether it's the rude smokers who don’t throw away their cigarette butts and smoke very close to others in public places, or the bad apples in the legislature who think they can control every minute detail of human existence.
The next time I smoke at the beach, you’ll know where I’ll be. Under the boardwalk.