Smoking is not a Thing on New Jersey Beaches Anymore

New York Post

John Conlow, Opinions Editor

Many town officials in New Jersey take pride in keeping their own beaches clean, especially Robert Matthies, mayor of Seaside Park.

Each year Matthies heads to the beach in Seaside Park and sweeps through the sand for the trash that visitors routinely leave – paper, plastic…cigarette butts.

But since 2017 when Matthies started, the mayor of the town has seen a change.

For two years now, Matthies has gone to the beaches to sweep the shores, looking for trash and cigarette filters.

“We used to find a lot of cigarette filters,” he said. “We hardly find any of those now. Our main concern now is plastic.”

Since 2011, the small beach town has banned all smoking in parks and beaches.

Matthies said that the ban has helped attract tourists to the beaches because the clean areas look more welcoming to visitors.

New Jersey implemented a law last summer that impacted everyone who goes to the Jersey Shore.

Gov. Phil Murphy revised a 19-year-old bill called the “New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act,” which was supposed to ban all smoking in public places in 2005.

“It is clearly in the public interest to prohibit the smoking of tobacco products and the use of electronic smoking devices…at all public beaches,” according to the website on the introduction of the law.

Valerie Huttle, the District 37 assemblywoman, co-sponsored the bill. It’s a subject that has followed her political career since she was a freeholder in Bergen County. She worked to ban smoking at a park there because she knew of its dangerous effects.

“I had much more support [from Murphy for the new bill],” said Huttle. “There were challenges during the [Gov. Chris] Christie administration. He vetoed the bill twice.”

Students at William Paterson University participated in the Clean Ocean Action Beach Sweep on Oct. 26 in Sandy Hook. The non-profit organization tries to keep New Jersey’s beaches clean.

Michelle Abril, a member of Lambda Tau Omega sorority at WPU, has participated in the beach sweeps for three years and still thinks there’s a lot of trash.

“I find a whole bunch cigarette filters and straws,” she said. “From what I have noticed from previous years, [the trash is] still high.”

Nejesea Brown, a member of the sorority and a graduate student intern at WPU’s Campus Activities Service and Leadership and Student Development, spoke about the amount of trash on the beaches as well.

“I have honestly seen the same amount of trash every year,” she said. “[But] every year, we find something unique.”

Volunteers help comb beaches for cigarettes with the non-profit organization Clean Ocean Action.

Clean Ocean Action works to protect the environment, including where the public swims. It also tries to limit the use of plastic on the beaches.

After volunteers finish the spring and fall collection of the trash, the organization creates an annual report. This report helps them figure out if new bans are making an impact on beaches. This means that if the beaches had more litter and affect wildlife more, it will try to help create more bans.

According to a report filed after the 2018 beach sweeps, the presence of cigarette butts decreased by 24% from 2017 to 2018 overall, after the law was implemented. In 2013, when Hurricane Sandy hit the shores of New Jersey, 32,303 cigarette filters were found on the beaches.

Since then, that number has gone down every year. In 2014, it was 30,241, in 2015 it dropped to 28,041. In 2016, it fell again to 20,219 and in 2017, the number was 29,008. Last year, the number was 21,998.

“We find [the trash and cigarette filters] coming from a source, which is us, the consumer,” Zach Karvelas said, an outreach fellow for Clean Ocean Action. “We see trash on the sand and [in the] ocean.”

Karvelas said that the cigarette butts have gone down, but “sweepers” are seeing more e-cigarettes.

Trash on the beaches, including cigarette filters, is threatening to wildlife because there are toxins in it, and it is a choking hazard for the animals.

“We have seen people within our staff witness animals caught in plastic bags and plastic six-pack rings,” said Karvelas. “It can strangle them and make them feel full. [It’s] making them starve to death.”

The Department of Environmental Protection helped settle fines for violating the ban, which are $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for each additional incidence.

While the law was created by the state, they tell each municipality to enforce this law.

“I don’t see it being a big problem [with] lifeguards saying something,” said Huttle.

Many towns have found their own way to enforce the law. Matthies said that Seaside Park counts on both employees and visitors to enforce the law.

“The town has come to relying on the self-policing of beach goers,” he said in a telephone interview. There are thousands of beachgoers. “[They] are either going to say something [to someone] or they will seek out beach patrol personal or police to make that point.”