US Vice President Kamala Harris is currently visiting Atlantic City, and Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) is trying to utilize the opportunity. For a while, the group has been campaigning for the legislature to pass a law protecting casino workers from inhaling unwanted smoke and suffering from the secondhand effects.
If passed, the regulation against smoking will ban the act from occurring in gambling establishments. The Vice President is reportedly in the city to address the Atlantic City National Convention and discuss issues like abortion and reproductive health care rights.
Harris will be joined at the round table for the health discussion by Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange). Several representatives from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will also be involved. The current acting governor, Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Oliver, will not be among the group as planned due to other engagements.
CEASE just took advantage of Vice President Harris’ presence in the city to promote awareness concerning how much casino employees were being negatively impacted by the secondhand smoke available due to smokers polluting the air on most of the casino floors.
The leader of CEASE, Nicole Vitola, released a statement that said, “Vice President Harris should know that as she meets with legislators about reproductive rights and health in Atlantic City today, pregnant casino workers are still forced to breathe secondhand smoke that puts their health and the health of their unborn baby at risk. We are fighting to close the casino smoking loophole because no worker should have to decide between a paycheck and their health — or their unborn child’s health. It’s time to finally end indoor smoking. Our lives depend on it.”
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The group’s leader also pointed out that over half the workers in Atlantic City casinos were people of color. Compared to other groups, they were reportedly put in more danger by the harmful smoke. Another group of people that she drew attention to were pregnant workers in the casino. Inhaling smoke, even secondhand smoke could put both the expectant mother and her baby’s health in danger. Due to the speech the Vice President intends to make on reproductive health, Vitola asked for her support to ensure the legislation enables a smoking ban in the establishments.
“This is a matter of health equity, as our casino workforce is diverse, and as a result, people of color are disproportionately harmed by indoor smoking,” Vitola added.
New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act provides exceptions for Atlantic City casinos that permit each gaming facility to accept up to 25% of their floor space for indoor smoking.
The problem of smoking bans is a familiar one to state politicians. Even though smoking indoors in public spaces was banned it did not affect Atlantic City casinos, the ban reportedly affected other establishments like restaurants and indoor public places.
The majority of the New Jersey General Assembly’s 80 members and the Senate’s 40 seats support eliminating the Atlantic City casino smoking exemption. Two similar bills proposing to modify the 2006 Clean Air Act to cover all casino floors have the backing of at least 43 assembly members and 20 state senators.
However, New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who supports making casinos completely smoke-free, believes the choice is difficult and deserves thorough analysis rather than quick action. According to the Senate majority leader, removing tobacco products off gaming floors might harm casino revenue.
The city became answerable for its smoking habits in 2008; however, this reduced the casino revenue by 20% just a week after the exemption was revoked. Atlantic City casinos then utilized the threat of economic crisis to enforce their exemption once again and were permitted to allow smoking in a quarter of their establishments.
Despite this, casino employees are carrying on with their fight against smoke-polluted casinos and are organizing demonstrations to this effect. The legislation is yet to be passed by the Assembly and Senate of the state and will reportedly face some resistance.
This is mainly because of a fear of a repeat of the drop that occurred in 2008 and the apprehension of the gambling sector stakeholders who believe that smoke-free gaming floors would impact the casino revenue substantially. They also pointed out that passing the ban could lead to several people losing their jobs.