Smokefree AC Push Heats Up Ahead of Lame Duck Session
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Smoke Free AC and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights
RE: Smokefree AC Push Heats Up Ahead of Lame Duck Session
DATE: September 7, 2021
The fight to close the casino loophole that treats casino workers differently than every other worker in New Jersey--and forces employees to choose between their health and a paycheck--gained steam over the summer as energized casino workers refuse to accept indoor smoking, Governor Murphy indicated he’s likely to sign legislation making casinos permanently smokefree indoors and old industry arguments in favor of indoor smoking have fallen apart. All of this is building towards a lame duck session this November in which state legislators will be pressed to finally take action.
Here are key developments from the last two months that you may have missed over the summer:
AC Casino Workers More Organized Than Ever Before
Since smoking returned on July 4th, casino workers have been fed up. They experienced several months of a smokefree work environment, and they want that policy to be permanent. More than 1,800 employees have formed a new group called CEASE -- Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects -- and they are targeting legislators, especially Senate President Steve Sweeney, to act on their behalf. At rallies, legislator community events, and in the media, casino workers are speaking out like never before. “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."
Gov. Phil Murphy Open to Signing Permanent Smokefree Casino Bill (VIDEO)
Governor Murphy in June said that he could support legislation to finally close the casino loophole in state law. "Would I be open-minded, would I be constructive on legislation, because I need to do this statutorily, that could come to me in the future, to extend that ban or make it more permanent? I would be very constructive on that," said Murphy.
Atlantic City Council Votes in Favor of Legislation to Make Casinos Smokefree
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."
Top Engineers Refute Casinos Claims About Ventilation Systems’ Effectiveness
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.”
Revenue Figures Spike While AC Casinos Operate Smokefree
Atlantic City casinos were thriving while operating smokefree, having reported generating 11% greater profits while operating smokefree in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same period in 2019. These casinos also reported an all-time revenue record in the month of June, the last full month during which they operated smokefree indoors. Further, the American Gaming Association published a report in August 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.
American Gaming Association Says Claims About Going Smokefree Hurting Revenue Are “Not Necessarily True”
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.
Tobacco Industry Lines Pockets of Legislative Candidates
In a development that puts legislators in an uncomfortable and vulnerable position, 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."
Editorial Boards Call for Action to Make Casinos Permanently 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 Citycasinos 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."
Local Legislative Candidate Speaking Out for Casino Workers
New Jersey candidates running for state legislative seats announced in July their support for closing the casino loophole in order to protect casino employees and guests from the well-established harms of even brief exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Casino workers and guests were able to experience what it would be like to be inside a smoke-free casino since September of last year,” said Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Twp.), a former State Assemblyman. “While the COVID-19 pandemic will be a thing of the past at some point, the risks associated with second-hand smoke are very real, and not going anywhere unless we do something to change that. As someone who has suffered a personal loss from cancer, this issue could not hit more close to home for me.”
- Former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (who is running on Polistina’s ticket for one of two Assembly seats) agreed. “I think the fact that casino revenue during the smoking ban was up over 10% in 2021, as compared to the same time in 2019, we can see the ban did not hurt business,” Guardian said. “With health as the top priority as we come out of the pandemic, we need to realize our casino employees and guests are placed at risk each time they enter a casino. They need our help.”
- Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo’s campaign manager told the Press of Atlantic City that “all the candidates in the race support a smoking ban (in casinos).”
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/.