Smokers in Cherry Hill will have less room to enjoy a puff in the near future. Township Council unanimously approved an ordinance which prohibits smoking on public property, including the Cherry Hill Public Library, Town Hall, playgrounds, parks and trails.

The law was introduced earlier this month by Mayor Chuck Cahn.

"It will be an example for others to follow," he stated.

The ban will take effect 20 days after it is formally published, which will happen by Friday. Mayor Cahn said a 30-day period of public education outreach and warnings will follow with full enforcement beginning in January. Signs will identify smoke-free zones and will be installed in the coming weeks.

Those who violate the ban will face some stiff fines. First time offenders could be subject to fines between $100 and $150. The penalty doubles for a second offense and can increase to between $300 to $500 for repeat violations.

Cherry Hill had passed a smoking ban in 2005, but the resolution did not have provisions for enforcement. The new law will "put more teeth in it," said Council President David Fleisher.

Clean air

Protecting the health and safety of Cherry Hill residents, particularly children, from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke has been cited as the primary reason behind the law. Cahn acknowledged that because of frequent patronage by children, smoking on the grounds of the township's Public Library had been one of the township's main concerns.

Dr. Arnold Baskies, a surgical oncologist and President of the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey, spoke in support of the ban. He stated that 20 percent of Camden County residents are smokers, a ratio which is almost 50 percent higher than any other county in New Jersey. The law will go far in "reducing the devasting burden of cancer" in New Jersey, he said.

An estimated 42,000 non-smokers die each year in the United States as a result of second hand smoke. "Just think about this for a second, cigarette smoke has the same carcinogenic ability as asbestos," Baskies remarked and continued, "so i think it goes without saying as how effective this law can be."

Baskies told council members that the law will be powerful in curbing teen addiction. Two out of three teens who smoke eventually die from the habit, Baskies noted.

Cahn says while the new law was drafted to be all encompassing, it began with kids. "It really is about the next generation," he stated.

Preventing teens from loitering to smoke on playgrounds and other township property was "absolutely" another factor, Cahn said.

Though not considered when drafting the ordinance, Cahn said a side benefit to the smoking ban could be lower health insurance rates once Affordable Insurance Exchanges are implemented in 2014 through the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Clean earth

Council also expects the ban to reduce the problem of litter caused by smokers when they discard their cigarette butts and packaging. In addition to a potential fire hazard if not extinguished properly, the butts pose another risk to the environment. Baskies explained that cigarette butts can take more than a year and a half to decompose and contain numerous toxic chemicals.

Going too far?

Only one resident voiced concern about the ban's reach and penalties. Bruce Schwartz, a retired lawyer who has worked on anti-pollution legislation for New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, questioned whether the restriction on all public lands was going too far. Schwartz told Council he is worried that folks like his neighbor who enjoys smoking while walking his dog in the woods of Colwick Park will suffer undue limitation of their personal freedoms. Schwartz fears over-regulation can lead to a Tea Party revolt. He would rather see the ban limited to "tot lots", playgrounds and other recreational areas where people would be likely to encounter more than just a fleeting exposure to second-hand smoke.

Schwartz also spoke out against the heavy fines for first time violations. "The most unfortunate possible target" of the ban's enforcement would be a non-Cherry Hill resident caught smoking while enjoying or passing through park lands. Schwartz said a lesser fine would still get an offender's attention but not create public resentment.

"I think the ordinance is right on the money," Councilman JIm Bannar responded. Bannar tried to allay Schwartz's concerns by noting that township police are compassionate and would not be looking to fine out-of-towners who do not know about the law.

"We don't know yet if the ordinance is too harsh or not harsh enough," conceded Council President, David Fleisher.

Fleisher expressed confidence that, should the need arise, both Council and Mayor Cahn have "a great willingness to revisit" and make any necessary changes to the ordinance.

Cherry Hill joins 150 other municipalities in New Jersey which have enacted similar outdoor smoking bans.