N.J. may now make it illegal to smoke at airport drop off areas

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The curb where you bid farewell to friends and family at the airport may be the next place where New Jersey outlaws lighting up a cigarette.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban smoking at outdoor drop off and pickup locationsat airports in the Garden State.

The state Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee approved the measure, sponsored by Democrats, at the Statehouse in Trenton on Tuesday.

The goal, sponsors say, is to protect millions of visitors and residentswho pass through New Jersey airports from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Even though indoor areas at airports are one of the places where smoking is prohibited in the state, sponsors say people often have to walk past smokers to get into the building and smoke sometimes wafts into baggage claims from outside.

“It isn’t fair to the many passengers and families waiting outside — including seniors and infants in strollers — to have to breathe in cigarette or vaping smoke," said state Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, a sponsor.

The bill (A5028/S3523) must be passed by both Democratic-controlled chambers of the state Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — before Democratic Gov. Phil Murphycould decide whether to sign it into law.

It would be the latest revision to the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, which was enacted in 2006 to ban smoking at most indoor public places, like restaurants, bars, stores, and workplaces.

Murphy signed an update last year that prohibits lighting up at public beaches and state parks.

This new measure would exempt any federal or military-owned airport in the state.

“No child or adult should have to struggle to breathe while they wait excitedly to pick up a relative at the airport or go on a trip with their families,” said Assemblywoman Pintor Marin, D-Essex, another sponsor.

Secondhand smoke contributes to an estimated 34,000 heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S., and it can lead to health issues like lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and asthma, according to the federal Centers For Disease Control.

This legislation is named for James Nicholas Rentas, a Bayonne restauranteur and businessman who smoked for 30 years before quitting after a heart attack. But he died in 2007 after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer — which doctors said tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure helped bring on.

New Jersey has long been strict on smoking. It’s one of only 16 states where you must be 21 to legally smoke.And state lawmakers are now considering bans on menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping.

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.

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