N.J. may become more civil about prosecuting errant smokers

Smokers who violate New Jersey bans on lighting up in a public place are now subject to criminal prosecution. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

Smokers who violate New Jersey bans on lighting up in a public place are now subject to criminal prosecution. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

Smoking in a public place where it has been banned in New Jersey is now a criminal offense. A bill passed by the New Jersey Senate could change that.

Current law requires that violators be fined $200 with the possibility of jail time for a disorderly person’s offense.

Sen. Bob Gordon has sponsored legislation that would give towns the option of imposing the fine as a civil penalty.

“An awful lot of people want to be able to go to a park and not smell cigarette smoke or they want their kids to be able on play a beach without encountering cigarette butts,” said Gordon, D-Bergen. “So we want to enforce these laws in a way that gets the job done without giving people criminal records.”

And that, he said, might lead to stronger enforcement of anti-smoking laws in towns that were reluctant to charge violators with a crime.

The legislation is awaiting action in the Assembly.

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