On Eve of Labor Day, Advocates Call on New Jersey Legislators to Act to Protect Casino Workers By Closing Loophole
September 3, 2021
Atlantic City, NJ – Ahead of Labor Day, Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, issued the following statement:
“Labor Day weekend is not just a busy time for Atlantic City casinos, but a chance to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of workers. Because of inaction from New Jersey legislators, Atlantic City casino workers are making too big of a sacrifice that no other worker in New Jersey must make — choosing between their health and a paycheck.
“Not only does allowing smoking indoors at casinos contradict well-established public health principles, but it also disproportionately hurts Black and Brown, as well as female, casino workers who are forced to breathe secondhand smoke for hours on end while they work, even as the number of COVID cases is rising once again. It is unconscionable to keep in place harmful indoor smoking policies, especially in the midst of a respiratory-centric pandemic that has exposed and severely exacerbated health disparities among communities that largely make up the industry’s frontline workers.
“We are building a diverse coalition of lawmakers, casino workers, businesses, and others who will help us make inaction unacceptable, and together we will prove to be more powerful than even the deepest tobacco industry pockets that are shamelessly trying to keep lawmakers from doing the right, common sense thing. State legislators will have no choice but to pass this legislation during the lame duck session later this year. Tired industry arguments to keep indoor smoking no longer carry weight, especially since Atlantic City casinos thrived while operating smokefree.
“It is long past time to close the casino loophole and until legislators act, their statements and social media posts in support of workers will ring hollow.”
Last month, the American Gaming Association said it’s “not necessarily true” that going smokefree hurts revenues, an overdue recognition that repeated industry claims about the impact of going smokefree are overblown. The comments came as the AGA published a report showing that U.S. commercial gaming revenue hit an all-time high of $13.6 billion in the second quarter of 2021–a period during which casinos in some of the biggest gaming markets across the country, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, operated smokefree indoors. Atlantic City casinos reported an all-time revenue record in the month of June, the last full month during which they operated smokefree indoors.
In July, the Star-Ledger editorial board published an editorial calling for New Jersey’s elected officials to finally close the casino loophole that forces gaming employees and guests to breathe secondhand smoke in Atlantic City. Gaming executives “have yet to explain how profits at Atlantic City casinos were 11% higher in the first quarter of 2021 than in the first quarter of 2019. Repeat: When smoking was banned, profits rose…It’s time to get a bill to [Gov. Murphy’s] desk, and it must be a priority in the next session. Casino workers cannot hold their breath forever.” The South Jersey Times editorial board also wrote that the “time is right for [a] full N.J. casino smoking ban.”
Meanwhile, Politico reported in July that “a subsidiary of one of the largest cigarette makers in the world pumped nearly $50,000 into New Jersey elections during the second quarter of 2021, including more than $36,000 to campaign committees backing Democrats who had spearheaded efforts to curtail tobacco use in the previous legislative session. Philip Morris USA, which is owned by Altria, gave $18,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee and $18,500 to the Senate Democratic Majority Committee in June. Separately, the company contributed $11,000 each to the Assembly Republican Victory and Senate Republican Majority committees, according to filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.”
In a stark rebuke of gaming industry claims about the effectiveness of advanced ventilation systems, the experts on such ventilation systems are warning that the systems “are not effective against secondhand smoke” and “can reduce only odor and discomfort but cannot eliminate exposure.” The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) wrote in a letter to Casino Association of New Jersey President Terry Glebocki in June that “there is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of [environmental tobacco smoke] to an acceptable level.”
Further, casino workers are speaking out. “In my 20 years as a dealer, I’ve seen too many of my coworkers develop serious health issues directly related to secondhand smoke,” said Borgata dealer Nicole Vitola. “I was pregnant with my son, and I was in, I had to be in a high roller room with six people smoking cigars and I had to just stand there and deal, and I did.”
According to an AGA report, the casino industry employs a far more diverse workforce than most other industries in America. Per the AGA’s own count, not only do women make up nearly half of gaming’s workforce, 45% of the workforce is composed of people of color and nearly 20% of gaming employees are Hispanic.
City councilors in Atlantic City last month passed a resolution in support of state legislation to close the casino loophole that allows indoor smoking and thus exposes casino workers to dangerous secondhand smoke. As the Press of Atlantic City reported, “Council also passed resolutions at its Aug. 25 meeting in support of a bill to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos…The smoking ban resolution was in support of Senate Bill 1878.” S1878/A4541 “eliminates smoking ban exemption for casinos and simulcasting facilities.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called smokefree casino policies a “silver lining” of the pandemic.
ABOUT AMERICANS FOR NONSMOKERS’ RIGHTS
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) is a member-supported, non-profit advocacy group that has been working for 45 years, since 1976, to protect everyone’s right to breathe nontoxic air in workplaces and public places, from offices and airplanes to restaurants, bars, and casinos. ANR has continuously shined a light on the tobacco industry’s interference with sound and life-saving public health measures and successfully protected 61% of the population with local or statewide smokefree workplace, restaurant, and bar laws. ANR aims to close gaps in smokefree protections for workers in all workplaces, including bars, music venues, casinos, and hotels. For more information, please visit https://no-smoke.org/ and https://smokefreecasinos.org/.