Less than three weeks after the Atlantic City Council voted to banish smoking from three-quarters of casino gambling floors, a Senate committee approved a bill yesterday to snuff it out altogether.
Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), a sponsor of the casino smoking ban and chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said Atlantic City’s ordinance „forced the issue“ by requiring casinos to erect partitions and establish smoking areas.
„We can’t allow the casinos to make an investment in what will be failed smoking chambers and two or three years from now tell them to tear them out,“ Vitale said.
He said second-hand smoke cannot be adequately removed by air filtration systems and „lingers for hours and hours,“ posing risks to casino dealers, cocktail waitresses and cleaning staff.
Herding all smokers onto just a quarter of the gambling floor makes the problem worse, Vitale added, because it „makes the air quality that much more dangerous.“ He likened tolerating known smoking risks on a quarter of a casino floor to „saying 25 percent of coal mines don’t have to be safe.“
In written comments submitted to the senators, Joseph Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, urged them to allow the compromise ordinance to take effect. He said it „enables us to compete with the casinos in Pennsylvania and Connecticut that permit smoking.“
But the Senate Health Committee unanimously approved the bill (S1089) and sent it to the full Senate, where Vitale assessed its chances of passage as „very good.“ It would eliminate an exemption for casino gambling floors and simulcasting facilities in a state law that last year banned smoking in bars, restaurants and other establishments open to the public.
State Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs called that law „a great public health victory“ that fell short by failing to protect casino workers from „the proven toxic effects of second-hand.“
„All workers in our state deserve the same protection,“ Jacobs said. He cited a report by the U.S. Surgeon General last summer that found „there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke.“
Regina Carlson, executive director of the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP), said Rhode Island casinos have walled-off smoking sections and they do not work. She said the air inside the smoking sections is much worse while the air in the rest of the casino is still polluted.
Carlson said if Atlantic City casinos segregate all smokers into a quarter of the gambling area, „we predict it will be four times as smoky as it is now.“
Several casino workers said they fear being forced to work in those smoke-filled rooms. Vince Rennich, a casino worker for 25 years who blames his lung cancer on second-hand smoke, said, „We are getting sick and we are dying.“