Cigarette breaks on the beach here are about to get more complicated.
Already known as the first beach in the continental United States to limit smoking to designated areas — under a law passed in 2001 — Belmar now plans to limit those areas even further, the Township Council announced today.
Until now, smokers were allowed to light up within 100 feet of smoking signs that stood every 400 feet along the beach. All told, 20 percent of the beach was set aside for smoking, enough to allow smokers to set up their chairs within the designated areas.
But beginning this beach season, each smoking area will shrink significantly, some to as small as 20 by 30 feet. Smokers will need to walk to the designated areas every time they feel an urge to puff.
And, unlike before, the boundaries of the smoking areas will be delineated by a plastic chain or a rope, to make enforcement easier.
“We think it’s a good step forward to making Belmar beaches one of the healthiest for beachgoers anywhere in the country,” Mayor Kenneth E. Pringle said, to applause from the audience.
Of course, few members of the audience probably were smokers. The council held its meeting today at the Belmar Elementary School, as part of a community outreach effort, so most of the audience consisted of some 160 students in sixth through eighth grades who might have been applauding because they got to miss science class.
Still, their applause seemed to delight the governing body.
“We want you guys to come to all our meetings from now on,” Pringle told the students.
The fine for smoking outside of a designated area will remain $25, the mayor said, but the Police Department will step up enforcement.
In the past, he said, three or four officers would sweep the entire beach and look for beachgoers who were disrespecting borough law. Now, two officers will be assigned to every four-block zone, so they can watch the beach more closely.
Also, the borough will assign to each zone a “customer service representative,” or an employee who will remind beachgoers of the laws and summon the police if necessary.
“The hope is that we’ll reduce if not completely eliminate cigarette litter on our beaches,” Pringle said. He noted that the beachraker cannot pick up cigarette butts, so the butts remain in the sand for years.
The public comment session brought tough questions for the council to answer.
“What are you going to do about smoking at night?” asked 13-year-old Dennis Lepore, a seventh grader and local resident.
The law applies 24 hours a day, Pringle replied. And spotting an illegal smoker is easier in the dark.
“Oh,” Dennis said. “Like (the smokers) hiding behind the lifeguard stands?”
“I’m not sure that’s what they’re doing behind the lifeguard stands,” the mayor replied.
Out on the boardwalk, Justine Cotugno of Howell, a frequent visitor to Belmar, approved of the council’s limiting smoking even more than before.
“If you want to smoke, go to a different area,” the 60-year-old said. “”It’s easier to clean up a smaller spot.”