Updated: Thursday, March 30, 2017, 7:33 PM
Longport has become the first town on Absecon Island to ban smoking on its beaches.
The ban, which prohibits all kinds of smoking, including cigars, pipes, and electronic devices on the beaches of this affluent Jersey Shore town, carries an initial fine of $250 and can rise to $1,000 for repeated offenses.
After a resident complained that other activities famously banned on New Jersey beaches were not enforced — such as ball-playing and picnicking — Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo said the city would look into repealing those old ordinances.
Which might make Longport one of the only beaches in New Jersey to officially allow picnics and Frisbee-playing.
Longport joins about a dozen other beach towns, mostly on Long Beach Island and to the north, to ban smoking on beaches. Ocean City has banned smoking on its Boardwalk.
According to the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights website, the following beach towns in New Jersey ban smoking: Belmar, Cape May Point, Lavallette, Long Branch, Point Pleasant Borough, Rockaway, Seaside Park, Spring Lake, and Surf City.
Gov. Christie signed a smoking ban in 2016 as it applied to state parks like Island Beach, but vetoed the part of the law that would have applied to counties and municipal beaches, saying he would leave it up to local government.
The ban, adopted at a meeting earlier this month, has set off a debate in nearby towns on Absecon Island.
"OK VENTNOR, NOW OUR TURN TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND PASS THIS LAW TOO," posted Merrill Kelem on a Facebook page devoted to Ventnor community issues. The post received 258 comments, with descriptions of cigar smoking chasing people off the beach, toddlers picking up cigarette butts, and ocean breezes laden with cigarette smoke.
But others saw the ban as yet another restriction in New Jersey's oceanfront Land of No.
Said one commenter: "Are we even allowed to go in the water still?"
"Every year the sign on the beach gets bigger on what we can't do," noted another.
Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman said she had placed the topic of a smoking ban on an earlier workshop agenda but removed it on the advice of the city's solicitor.
"Everybody is so green-conscious, it would seem like a no-brainer," she said. Ventnor, Margate, Longport, and Atlantic City all banned the intentional release of helium balloons recently. Longport has also banned the use of plastic bags. "Smoking's not the norm."
A smoking ban has not been considered in Margate or Atlantic City.
In Ocean City, spokesman Doug Bergen said that the town has discussed a local smoking ban on beaches but that no ordinance has been drafted or introduced.
"The city administration favors any measure that preserves a healthy and family-friendly atmosphere," he said in an email. "The city also has discussed the practicality of enforcement and the potential for a concentrated nuisance at beach entrances."
As for enforcement in Longport, Russo said he would be meeting with the head of the police as well as the beach patrol, which he said would be the ones most likely to field complaints about smoking. But he said he hoped the ordinance itself and new signs would be enough to discourage the practice.
"We associate the ocean with healthy activities," he said. "It seems contradictory to expose people who don't want to be exposed to secondhand smoke. I'm not meaning this to be punitive."
Read full story: Another Shore town bans smoking on the beach — which one's next?