Assembly OKs ban on public teen smoking
TRENTON -- Kids puffing on cigarettes in public would suffer embarrassment, but no penalty, under a measure approved by the Assembly yesterday that gives police and school officials the right to confiscate tobacco products.
In a 49-9 vote with 19 abstentions, the lower house approved the bill sponsored by Assemblyman John Gibson, R-Sea Isle City. The measure is a watered-down version of an anti-tobacco bill that some lawmakers fervently pushed last session.
Gibson's measure, however, is not enough for Assemblyman Joseph Suliga, D-Linden, who said he will try again this session with his more stringent bill.
Gibson's measure would make it illegal for anyone under 18 years old to smoke in public and permits police and school officials to take away the tobacco. However, the offenders would face no penalties.
Gibson said even though his bill carries no penalities, it will "send a message that smoking is bad for your health."
"This will give the appropriate officials the right to confiscate the tobacco and, at the same time, it won't clog up the courts, the kids won't have a record and won't receive summonses," Gibson said.
Suliga said Gibson's bill won't work without penalities and should be amended. He attempted to table Gibson's measure yesterday, but that was rejected by a 43-34 vote.
"I don't think a law that doesn't have consequences can be effective. Just by making something illegal isn't enough," Suliga said.
Suliga's co-sponsor, Assemblyman Guy Gregg, R-Washington Township, Morris County, said they will push their bill through again this session and have been trying to work out a compromise with police, health officials and anti-smoking groups.
Suliga's bill, which has been reintroduced this year, proposes penalties for anyone under 18 years old caught buying, possessing or smoking tobacco products on public property such as streets, parks, parking lots, shopping centers, or in buses, trains or public buildings.
The offender would be issued a ticket, ordered to appear in municipal court and, if convicted, fined $25. Teens who attend a tobacco education program would receive their money back.
For a second or subsequent offense, a violator would have to perform up to 15 hours of community service.
The legislation sailed through both houses but died when Gov. Christie Whitman decided not to sign it before the end of the last legislative session.
Gregg said Gibson's measure will at least get the idea out there that smoking by minors won't be tolerated, but he agreed with Suliga that without more serious consequences for the minors the bill probably won't do the job.
"Assemblyman Suliga and I both feel there needs to be some tough love where this issue is concerned," he added.
Gibson's bill would only allow minors to possess tobacco if it is part of their employment or if it has to do with a state or federal law enforcement effort regarding the sale of tobacco.
While it is illegal to sell tobacco to a minor, it is not illegal for a minor to use it. This measure will "close the loophole in the law," Gibson said.
Salega abstained from voting on Gibson's bill.
Gibson's bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.