Across wide swaths of the Shore, vacationers who are the lifeblood of New Jersey's multibillion-dollar tourism industry are spared from secondhand smoke wafting over from the next blanket. Why not every beach?
That's the question Trenton lawmakers have asked - and answered with conviction - during two successive sessions, passing statewide bans on smoking on all beaches and in public parks.
The most recent move came just weeks ago with a measure championed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and approved by overwhelming margins in both the Assembly and the Senate.
The legislation awaiting action by Gov. Christie would extend the state's 2006 indoor smoking rules to the great outdoors but still permit limited smoking in designated areas at the Shore and on golf courses. The governor should sign it into law.
Christie halted this effort last year by failing to act before the session ended. And now the governor appears to be sticking to his opposing view that beyond the dozen Shore communities that have banned beach smoking with local ordinances, the state has no business dictating what other towns should do.
It's an odd stance in New Jersey, where the state takes a strong hand in progressively setting policy for all levels of government - from school funding to property taxes to public pensions and higher education.
A beach ban on smoking makes sense on more than public health grounds. While tighter limits on smoking in public places may encourage more people to kick the habit, the real payoff for Shore communities - and the state economy as a whole - would come through preserving and promoting Jersey beach towns as clean, visitor-friendly vacation spots.
Discarded cigarette butts not only foul the beaches but threaten marine life when ingested. For beachgoers, having to wave off secondhand smoke all day just makes it that much more likely that many will go to a Shore town - or out-of-state destination - where smoke isn't such a hassle.
Even if statewide smoke-free beaches don't fit the narrative of Republican politics, Christie - vice presidential prospect or not - should be eager to shore up New Jersey's tourism industry by joining Sweeney on this issue. It would be in the state's best interest, which should be the governor's highest priority.