Updated: Saturday, August 6, 2016, 11:59 PM
On an Atlantic City beach, a group of five adults recently sat a few feet from the ocean, some with lit cigars in hand.
They placed makeshift ashtrays, really just upside-down seashells, next to their beach chairs, storing discarded cigars there. Two from the group - Monica Plumley, 48, of Glassboro, and Shelley Gatanis, 50, of Woodstown - had just met each other that day, and bonded over cigars.
"I want to be able to do anything that's appropriate freely," Plumley said of their right to smoke on the sand. "I keep it all in my little area. . . . I put it in a neat little pile, pick it up and take it up for trash."
"If they're going to smoke, they're going to smoke," added Gatanis' father, Doug Hopkins, 72, visiting from Appling, Ga. He, like Plumley, had a cigar in hand and puffs of smoke coming from his mouth.
There is no smoking ban on Atlantic City beaches, and much to smokers' relief, there won't be at any time soon.
After New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill that would ban smoking in all public parks and beaches in the state, Gov. Christie last month issued a conditional veto and instead offered to support a smoking ban solely on state-owned parks and beaches. The legislature must act on that proposal.
The bill vetoed by Christie would have expanded the New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act, which banned smoking in all indoor public spaces, to include every public park and beach. This essentially would make the state's entire 130-mile coastline - beaches from Sandy Hook to Cape May - smoke-free. The bill would also allow for beaches to establish designated smoking areas.
"I abhor smoking," Christie wrote in the veto. "But I continue to believe that the state should not impose its will upon our local governments, and instead continue to leave it up to towns and counties whether to ban smoking in their parks and beaches."
In 2014, Christie vetoed a similar bill that aimed to ban smoking on all public parks and beaches. This time, he offered changes to the bill instead of shutting it down completely, and mentioned that several local governments have imposed their own smoking bans.
Several New Jersey beaches have taken that matter into their own hands, as the veto language suggests. According to the America Nonsmoker's Rights Foundation, 15 beaches in New Jersey have implemented smoke-free beach laws.
Some beaches along Long Beach Island, for example, have implemented a smoking ban, including Long Beach Township and now Beach Haven, whose smoking ban went into effect on June 8.
"The mayor and council felt a responsibility to protect young children from secondhand smoke," said Beach Haven Municipal Clerk Sherry Mason. "They didn't want to wait."
Mason said the town had been discussing the ban and were waiting to see what the state would do, but the township came to the decision in April to prepare for the current beach season. This came two years after nearby Long Beach Township also implemented a ban on smoking along the beach.
Mason said beach rakes had been picking up a lot of cigarette butts, and this measure would help with that as beach seasons continue.
Denise Glass, 35, of Bordentown, said she frequently comes to LBI with her 3-year-old son. She's against smoking on the beach, and would take banned areas into consideration when choosing a place to go.
"It's just bad for you," she said. "I'm in support of a ban."
But not all jurisdictions along Long Beach Island have banned smoking. Surf City Mayor Francis Hodgson said after watching the governor's decision, the township does not intend to ban smoking on the beach.
"We discussed it, and the council and myself feel as though this is a family resort and a summer resort," he said. "People come away to relax and enjoy themselves - if a guy wants to sit on the beach and smoke a cigar, let him go."
While Hodgson said he doesn't smoke and does not enjoy the smell of it, the township doesn't want to "deprive somebody else of their enjoyment."
He said there have not been many problems with complaints about smokers on the beach, but he did say there have been some people who inquire about it. As of now, he said, he thinks it would be a challenge to enforce a ban.
Further down the shore, Ocean City has had a smoking ban along its boardwalk since 2014. While there is no ban on the beach, Doug Bergen, the city's public information officer, said he could see the administration discussing a law for the future, perhaps for the next summer season.
Lisa Ambrosino, 47, of Mount Laurel, came to visit Ocean City and lit up a cigarette while on the beach. She said she always cleans up her cigarette butts and makes an effort to avoid causing problems for others around her.
"It's my decision," she said, with a cigarette in hand. "We're outside. I understand secondhand smoke, but we're outside."
New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said he believes Christie is "sacrificing" the health and safety of people on the beach with the veto, considering secondhand smoke and potentially lit cigarettes buried in the sand.
"This is a health issue, and it's an important one. What our governor did was just wrong," he said. "We shouldn't be OK with turning our beaches into ashtrays."
Cora Rosenhaft, 41, of Damascus, Md., often visits Ocean City and was on vacation recently. She said she doesn't enjoy it when others smoke on the beach but understands that people want to.
"I prefer it when it isn't around," she said. "But it hasn't been a big problem while we're here."
Back in Atlantic City, cigarette butts were scattered throughout the Boardwalk and cigarette discard stations sat above the beach line on the boards.
Plumley, smoking a cigar while standing on the sand, said she wouldn't support a smoking ban on beaches and thinks the responsibility lies on those who are smoking to clean up and not bother nonsmokers. She said she "can't stand" people who don't clean up after themselves.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D., Bergen), a primary sponsor of the bill, said she thinks it's not enough, though. When a new governor takes office, Huttle said, they will try to pass the bill again.
"I was hoping that the outcome would be different this session," Huttle said. "A uniform policy makes much more sense and, quite frankly, it protects the residents more equally."
Still, Huttle said she expects the amended bill to pass.
"It's better than nothing," she said. "I don't think we'll let this one go."
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