Some 17 years after New Jersey’s indoor smoking ban came into existence, the state Senate will, for the first time, hold a public hearing on the idea of prohibiting smoking in the state’s last bastion of Marlboro Country: Atlantic City’s casinos.
State Sen. Joe Vitale, the chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services, & Senior Citizens Committee, announced Wednesday the committee will hold the hearing on bill S-264 — which would ban smoking of all stripes in the casinos — on Monday, Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.
“This hearing will give those engaged in the issue and impacted by the legislation the opportunity to express their views and share relevant information on the proposed casino smoking ban,” Vitale, a Middlesex Democrat, said in a press release announcing the hearing. “We welcome a thorough discussion with the committee on how this bill will affect casino employees, customers, and the gaming industry. We expect a productive and informative hearing on an issue of importance.”
Members of CEASE — Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects — applauded the announcement.
“For the first time in nearly 17 years, this bill will finally have a hearing,” read a statement from the group. “This is a massive step forward for protecting our health and treating us like every other worker in New Jersey. No other group of workers in our state must deal with secondhand smoke like we do — two feet in front of our faces, without even the ability to turn our heads because we’re watching over the chips on the table. We are grateful to Senator Vitale for scheduling this hearing and championing our cause to close the casino smoking loophole, and we thank Senator [Shirley] Turner for leading this bill as its prime sponsor.
“This hearing is a chance to tell our stories — about the nearly two decades of diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and more — that have convinced more than half of all legislators to co-sponsor the bills,” the statement continued. “CEASE will not rest until this legislation is signed into law. We will see you in Trenton on February 13.”
Casino workers protesting on the Atlantic City boardwalk about smoking in casinos. pic.twitter.com/4WfS76ZL2y
— Katie Kohler (@kkohler1129) September 22, 2022
Nonsmokers’ rights group weighs in
Cynthia Hallett, the president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, also was pleased to learn the hearing is being held.
“This hearing means that Atlantic City casino workers are one step closer to not having to choose between their health and a paycheck,” Hallett said in a statement. “It’s a historic moment in the fight to protect the health of thousands of New Jersey workers. They have waited nearly 17 years for this day. Dealers bear the brunt of the dangerous secondhand smoke more harshly than anyone else working in casinos, and their voices must carry the most weight. We are deeply appreciative of the leadership of Senator Joe Vitale, as well as lead sponsor Senator Shirley Turner, which will help this bill become law.”
The bill has the co-sponsorship of 51 state assembly members and an additional 23 state senators, all but ensuring its passing — should it ever get to the floor. Additionally, Gov. Phil Murphy has insisted that should a bill reach his desk, he will sign it.
NEW: @GovMurphy on ending indoor smoking: “At the end of the day, we will still get good business. Atlantic City is an American gem. We’ve got the ocean and the other competitors don’t. And this is the right thing for our respective health.” #smokefreeAC pic.twitter.com/tV9Uhyk2HY
— Smokefree Casinos (@CasinoSmokefree) September 15, 2022
CEASE had previously demanded the legislature pass the bill by April 15.