Atlantic City casino workers seeking the introduction of a permanent smoking ban within the city’s gaming venues are organizing a rally scheduled for later this month. The event will be held on April 12, during the anniversary week of the original Smokefree Air Act, which eliminated smoking in all workplaces while specifically exempting casinos and simulcasting facilities.
The rally is organized by the group Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects (C.E.A.S.E.), which has more than 2,000 members on Facebook, and aims to be the loudest voice yet in favor of the much-debated smoking ban proposal. The event will be conducted at McClinton Park.
“On Tuesday, April 12th CEASE will be having a big rally to continue our push for the state to pass our bill to end smoking in casinos,” said the group in a statement. “We have generated an incredible amount of support for our bill, and every week we are closer and closer to making this happen. We need everyone at this rally!”
“Sixteen years, we’ve been left out of the protection that the state gives everyone else,” said Nicole Vitola, a dealer of 21 years, and co-leader of CEASE. “You can’t say it’s detrimental to everyone else’s health, but it’s not detrimental to our health.”
The rally comes as a bill seeking to ban smoking within Atlantic City casinos continues to gain sponsors. Legislation to that end now has more than 40 sponsors and co-sponsors across the Senate and Assembly, while the tally was 15 during the 2020-2021 legislative session.
Casino workers in New Jersey have long pushed for a permanent ban. While smoking within venues was banned as a Covid-19 transmission-prevention measure in 2020, the prohibition expired in April 2021: employees have since tried to get it reinstated.
“Certainly having it gone for a year during the pandemic showed us that it’s not going to be the end of the world,” state Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Linwood, told New Jersey 101.5. In March, a report said at least one-third of all state senators now back casino smoking ban legislation.
Additionally, The Press of Atlantic City reported last week that now most of the members of both the Assembly and Senate health committees are co-sponsors of proposals A2151 and S264.
“Legislation to protect casino workers from secondhand smoke has never had this much support in Trenton,” said Cynthia Hallett, president of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. However, not all stakeholders agree the ban would be in the best interest of the casino industry – especially casino operators.
According to a report from research and professional services firm Spectrum Gaming Group, commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), the introduction of a permanent smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos could cost up to 2,500 jobs and cause a decline in gaming and tax revenue for the state of New Jersey.
CANJ president Joe Lupo
“Adding a smoking ban could cause a devastating effect to the community and state,” CANJ president Joe Lupo stated in February. “We understand this is a difficult issue, but it is important that we create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of our guests, which include smokers and non-smokers.”
The sentiment has been echoed by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, which in March issued a statement opposing proposals for a permanent smoking ban. Michael Chait, president of the business group, said in an open letter that a ban “would have a negative impact on the casino industry.”
“As the numbers demonstrate, this is not the time to enact policy changes that could inflict yet another blow to an already struggling industry and the employees, families and businesses that it supports,” Chait warned, while highlighting Atlantic City remains “the economic engine of not only South Jersey, but the entire state.”