No Butts About it - No Smoking on the Beach

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

( - Getting a tan on a sunny summer day is legal. You can play beach volleyball, picnic, have a cool drink, and frolic in the ocean, all without fear of being fined. But before you light that cigarette while lounging on the beach, make sure you're in a "designated" area.

The New Jersey town of Belmar is one of the most popular Jersey Shore destinations in the summer months, attracting beachgoers from three states. On Wednesday night, the town council voted to ban smoking on the beach except in designated areas, making this borough the first town on the Jersey Shore to ban smoking on parts of a public beach.

Smoking along the borough's mile-long beach will be limited to 100-foot wide strips where disposable ashtrays are provided. According to police, a first-time offender would receive a warning. The next offense would bring a citation and a $25 fine.

The Belmar borough council approved the measure in a 4-1 vote after more than an hour of spirited debate that included protests from smokers and nonsmokers alike. Much of the debate centered on individual rights, while others cited cleanliness and "no smoke in the salt air."

"Where's our rights?" asked Belmar resident Diane Marquez. "What happened to our freedom? Isn't this a public area?"

Others applauded the council for passing the ordinance, saying cigarette butts and smoke are a blight on the beach.

"The intent is to deal with the litter problem," said Mayor Kenneth Pringle. "Cigarette butts are our single biggest litter problem on the beach. They're too small for our beach rakes to pick up. Kids pick them up. They've been in people's mouths. And we want to contain where that happens."

Pringle added that no fences will be erected around the smoking areas. In the first year after the ordinance's passage, smokers will be given warnings before being cited. "The goal is not to give out tickets. The goal is to limit litter," he said. Areas where smoking will be allowed will be designated with posted signs.

Belmar is not the first municipality to take aim on beach smoking. In 1996, Mount Olive Township, New Jersey enacted a smoking ban on all publicly owned land, including the beach at Budd Lake. Beach-smoking bans have also been passed in Carmel, N.Y., Sharon, Mass., and Honolulu.