The casino exemptions to indoor smoking bans in New Jersey and Pennsylvania both moved closer to an end last week, as lawmakers in both states considered plans to move bills to eliminate the exemptions to ban smoking inside casinos.
The New Jersey Monitor reported that New Jersey lawmakers are planning to use this month’s lame-duck session of the Legislature to address bills in both chambers to end the casino smoking exemption. Those same officials say they will move to ban menthol cigarettes in the state altogether.
New Jersey banned indoor smoking in 2006 but allowed the practice to continue in casinos and their simulcasting facilities. In recent years, however, an employee group known as Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) has been pushing a repeal of that exemption in the name of workers’ health. Bills to do that have been introduced in both chambers of the Legislature, and Governor Phil Murphy has said he will sign any bill to ban casino smoking that reaches his desk.
Atlantic City casino operators and their lobbyists have fought against eliminating the exemption, arguing that a smoking ban would severely harm revenues and result in some casinos closing.
However, as studies showed no evidence of long-term damage in other casinos that have eliminated smoking, the anti-smoking groups have gained traction. Twenty-six senators and 57 members of the Assembly now are sponsors or cosponsors of the smoking ban.
“The casino workers are becoming increasingly sick. Some have died because they’ve been exposed directly to secondhand smoke,” said Senator Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), the bill’s prime Senate sponsor, in an interview with the Monitor. “In no other workplace in New Jersey do we permit putting workers at risk of serious health consequences, but they have. It’s just untenable.”
Vitale’s bill has remained stuck in the Health Committee. Democratic legislative leaders said last week the bill would be considered in the lame-duck session before the next legislative session starts in January, but it could see amendments before reaching the floor.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania—where the second chapter of CEASE has been fighting for a casino smoking ban—a bill to end that state’s indoor smoking ban casino exemption was voted out of committee, and is cleared for a potential floor vote.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, cleared the House Health Committee, of which he is majority chairman. The bill would close loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act that exempt casinos, bars and clubs from the indoor smoking ban.
“We are the Health Committee—it’s in the name,” said Frankel in a statement. “We cannot refuse to act while thousands of Pennsylvanians are forced to choose between an absolutely undebatable health hazard and their ability to put food on the table.”
Frankel noted that much has changed since the Clean Indoor Air Act passed, including an avalanche of public health data supporting smoking bans and a sharp decline in the popularity of smoking. A growing body of evidence shows that the feared economic consequences of smoking bans never came to pass and that there are far more consumers who won’t choose to subject themselves to smoking environments than smokers who will shun establishments where they cannot smoke.
“It’s preposterous to argue that smoking bans are bad for business when Pennsylvania’s most successful casino is voluntarily smoke-free,” Frankel said, referring to Parx Casino’s ongoing domination of commonwealth gaming.
Twenty-one states, along with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have workplace smoking bans that cover restaurants, bars and gambling establishments.
The Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act would:
- Eliminate loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act that leave workers exposed to cancerous secondhand smoke.
- Expand the definition of smoking to add e-cigarettes to combat the rise in vaping-related illnesses.
- Give all localities the ability to enact smoke-free ordinances that are more protective than state law.
The committee approved three amendments to the bill that would continue some limited exceptions to the smoking ban, including those covering cigar bars, outdoor patios, home offices and some private clubs that meet ventilation and other requirements.
A companion bill has been introduced by state Senator Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.
“We thank Rep. Frankel and members of the House Health Committee for voting to pass legislation that will immediately improve our workplace conditions and fully protect thousands of frontline casino workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke,” said Jen Rubolino, a table games dealer at Rivers Casino and co-leader of CEASE PA.
“Today is a great day in our fight for a healthier workplace, and we won’t stop fighting for this legislation until we can finally breathe smoke-free air at work. We urge lawmakers to pass this bill when it comes to the House floor because no one should be forced to choose between their health and a paycheck.”