Whitman vetoes bills designed to crack down on underage smoking
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Christie Whitman on Tuesday snuffed out a bill that would have slapped fines on teens who smoke in public, suggesting it could have done more harm than good.
The governor also vetoed a bill that would have gone after underage drinkers in private homes, saying it would have taken the long arm of state government "too far into private family conduct."
Both bills were pushed by lawmakers who said more needs to be done to curb teen smoking and drinking. In both cases, Whitman essentially said: Good idea, but not the best plan of attack.
Because both bills passed in the waning days of the 208th Legislature, Whitman's vetoes stand. Lawmakers can introduce the bills again during the current two-year session.
The smoking bill, A-2254, would have forbidden underage smokers from possessing cigarettes in public places such as streets, schools, parks and shopping centers. Underage smokers caught puffing in public or possessing tobacco products could have been hit with a $25 fine for first-time offenders. The fine would have been suspended, however, until a minor attended a class that teaches why smoking is bad. Repeat offenders would have been ordered to perform up to 15 hours of community service.
Sponsors said the bill was intended to send a strong message about smoking to teens. However, anti-smoking groups opposed the bill, saying no studies show such a crackdown actually cuts down on youth smoking.
Whitman said in her veto message that anti-smoking groups told her "this is not the most effective or efficient use of public resources to combat smoking by young people."
The governor also said she worried that the bill "may inadvertently harm community policing efforts aimed at building positive relationships between police and juveniles, and will draw youths into the municipal court system."
Assemblyman Joseph Suliga, D-Union, a sponsor of the bipartisan bill, said he believed it was killed "by misinformation."
"Every year New Jersey continues to delay measures that keep young people away from tobacco, another 36,000 kids will begin smoking," Suliga said. "Obviously, the steps that have been undertaken in reducing tobacco's appeal to youngsters have not had much impact. The primary purpose of my bill was to break outside the bounds of traditional youth tobacco control programs and educate kids on the immediate consequences of smoking."
Suliga said some police chiefs told him the bill would not harm community police efforts.
Larry Downs, director of NJ Breathes, an anti-smoking group, said the bill's "unintended effect" would have been to send the message that tobacco use is acceptable for those who turn 18.
"There is no research that says this approach was going to work," said Downs. "We'd rather see the money go to good tobacco control policies."
Whitman also vetoed S-1617, which lawmakers said would crack down on underage drinkers who imbibe in private homes. Underage drinking is already prohibited in public places, and sponsors said this bill would solve a problem they say is particularly acute during summers at the Jersey shore.
The governor, however, said the bill could go too far.
"I am concerned that the prohibitions could be construed to apply to situations in which an underage person consumes even a small amount of alcohol under the watchful eye of an adult family member, such as a grandparent," Whitman said. "Application of this bill in such situations may intrude too far into private family conduct."