WILDWOOD CREST, N.J. -- Lisa Sweeney and Krystal Paskus, two friends from Willow Grove, were thrilled Saturday with the designated smoking areas they were surprised to find on the beach in Wildwood Crest.

They knew a smoking ban had taken effect in January for all New Jersey public beaches and were dreading a long trek from the water’s edge to take a drag. But they didn’t find the restrictions too bad, with a designated smoking zone only 100 yards from the water.

"This is phenomenal," said Sweeney. "I can have a cigarette while watching my daughter fly a kite."

Wildwood Crest is the only New Jersey beach town to designate smoking zones, which are permitted under the smoking-ban law. Gov. Phil Murphy signed it last July, citing health factors and a desire to keep beaches cleaner. The restrictions also apply to public parks. Fines for violations start at $250 for the first offense and go up to $1,000.

Beach transporter Joe Maloy (right) at one of 21 designated smoking areas on the beach in Wildwood Crest.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Beach transporter Joe Maloy (right) at one of 21 designated smoking areas on the beach in Wildwood Crest.

The first real test comes on a long holiday weekend with an ideal weather forecast.

It’s not clear yet how much use Wildwood Crest’s 21 smoking areas – outfitted with cylinders for cigarette butt disposal that are common outside many office buildings – will get. For instance, a reporter had walked the town’s nearly two-mile stretch of beach between 11:15 a.m. and noon Saturday without encountering a single smoker.

According to the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 percent of American adults smoked in 2017, down from 21 percent in 2005.

Lifeguards said they hadn’t yet had any complaints about illegal smoking, though they cautioned that it was early in the season. In Wildwood Crest, there were no signs explicitly warning people not to smoke, only signs on poles that read: “Designated Smoking Area.”

Some beachgoers welcomed the restriction.

“I’m for it. I hate smoking, especially on the beach, where you go for fresh air,” said Melissa Pileggi, of Glenside.

Sitting next to her was Daniel Harbison, also of Glenside, a smoker who decried the further shrinking of the smoker’s world.

“It seems like everything is going against smokers now,” said Harbison, who indicated he might take a walk to have a smoke where it is allowed, though Pileggi doubted he would bother.

To Harbison, it didn't make much sense that the smoking areas were by the entrances to the beach. “People are walking right past them to get out. It’s stupid,” he said.

Meanwhile, far from any designated smoking area, Courtney Hewitt puffed on a Marlboro Menthol near the water, the smoke wafting for at least 50 feet.

“I had no idea,” said Hewitt, of York, Pa., when told of the smoking restriction. No one had hassled her.

Her mother, Carla Hewitt, also from York, had little patience for the ban. “Seriously, what does it hurt, as long as you pick up after yourself?”

John and Linda Henry of Audubon, Camden County, on a smoke-free Wildwood beach Saturday.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
John and Linda Henry of Audubon, Camden County, on a smoke-free Wildwood beach Saturday.

In neighboring Wildwood, where there are no designated smoking areas on the beach, John Henry, of Audubon, Camden County, said he knew from experience that the ban did not apply just to beaches but also to parks. He had recently received a warning for smoking a cigar at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, on the northern tip of Long Beach Island.

On Saturday, he was not smoking the cigar he had in his bag.

“I would like to, but I can’t,” Henry said.