Metuchen may extinguish smoking in parts of town


METUCHEN — Possible new regulations could be a breath of fresh air for some in the borough.

Officials are considering an ordinance that would ban smoking in designated areas around town. Exactly how and where to implement the regulations remains in question.

“The point of this law … is really about public health and about protecting people from smoke and about counteracting the billions of dollars of damage that smoking causes year in and year out…,” Councilwoman Allison Inserro said.

As liaison to the Board of Health, Inserro presented the council with a model ordinance recommended by the board. It was set for introduction at the May 19 council meeting, but after some discussion, officials agreed that further research and thought was needed. They voted to table the ordinance.

Borough Attorney Denis Murphy said the model ordinance did not seem to reflect the council members’ intent for regulating smoking around town. He said the intent for such a law seemed to be to prohibit smoking in places where there is foot traffic. However, the model ordinance banned smoking within 35 feet of the entrance of municipal buildings.

“Someone could walk out to the sidewalk, and they would be … within the law,” he said, adding that it may be wiser to instead have a designated smoking area, perhaps at the rear of the building.

Murphy said such an area could be equipped with a smoking tower in which cigarette butts could be deposited, perhaps stemming the tide of butts being littered around town.

The borough’s recently formed Litter Brigade, along with students from Edgar Middle School, reported to the council what they saw as a staggering number of butts strewn around on the ground last month.

Mayor Thomas Vahalla said he had measured out 36 feet from the municipal building, and it took him out to the cement seats where concerts are held in warm weather months.

“So, someone could be performing at JuneBug [ArtFest], and someone could be smoking right there,” he said. “Fifty feet would push it back so that anybody walking on the sidewalk would still be exposed. I don’t think that’s the intent. I think the intent is to try to get it somewhere where it’s not going to affect people in the public.”

Inserro cited the summer concert series outside the borough’s senior center, saying that area should also be among the areas where smoking is prohibited.

Vahalla said the town piazza slated for the Pearl Street development should be considered, as well.

Councilman Peter Cammarano inquired with Murphy about whether downtown sidewalks could be included among smokefree areas. Murphy said he would have to look into whether a complete ban of smoking downtown would hold up if challenged in court.

“I’m not suggesting that we’re going to do it, but I would support that, actually,” Cammarano said.

Inserro said other municipalities throughout the country have made such a move.

The mayor also raised the issue of required signage, saying that parks with multiple entrances would require many signs. He said he would like to see smoking eliminated from borough parks, but that officials have to be aware the signs come at a cost.

Murphy confirmed Vahalla’s statement about required signage, saying that people would have to be provided notice of the law for police to be able to enforce it.

Councilman Ronald Grayzel suggested creating geographical smoke-free zones, which could be shown on a map to eliminate some of the signage issues.

Vahalla suggested that officials could look at how other towns have handled such regulations, and Inserro said other model ordinances could also be reviewed to determine what would work best for Metuchen.

“What I’d like to do is maybe table this to a later meeting, where we can really spend some time on it,” Council President Jay Muldoon said.