Two Pennsylvania lawmakers are proposing legislation that, if passed, would prohibit smoking in state casinos and other workplaces such as clubs and bars. The smoking ban bill was introduced Wednesday with the support of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
The proposal was filed by Rep. Dan Frankel and Sen. Jay Costa. Nicole Gallagher, a former Rivers Casino cocktail server who has asthma and found it difficult to carry out her daily duties because of secondhand smoke, stood alongside the lawmakers and spoke in favor of the bill.
“Sometimes you’re at a table with people smoking cigars and you’re holding a tray full of their drinks and you’re waiting until they play their hand, and you’re standing in their smoke,” Gallagher recalled, according to WPXI-TV. “That was hard.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Jay Costa
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also backed the bill, explaining the proposal would close loopholes in current legislation that still allow smoking in certain public places while prohibiting it in others.
“Walking into a restaurant and knowing that there’s no smoke you’re gonna be breathing, and workers and waitresses and bartenders and all the staff are protected, how healthy they can be,” Fitzgerald said, according to the cited news source. “We need to make the same thing happen in our casinos and other private clubs.”
While smoking in casinos was temporarily banned for about a year amid pandemic-related measures, it became legal again as policies relaxed, to the discontent of casino workers. Gallagher, who argues secondhand smoke made her illness worse, called for gambling venues to “stop exposing people who are not really consenting” to cigarette smoke.
Today, I introduced a cosponsorship memo for my legislation that would ban smoking inside at all workplaces - including casinos. Workers have a right to clean air! Thank you to all who joined us today in support. Hoping to see more sponsors join the bill. pic.twitter.com/aq5ioc0zaF— Senator Jay Costa (@Senatorcosta) March 16, 2022
The legislative proposal would modify Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act, which was passed in 2008 to regulate smoking in public places and workplaces. The Frankel and Costa bill is called the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act.
"If we cannot count on private businesses to do the right thing, even when it's the financially smart thing to do, then it's time for political leaders to step in and insist on the protection of the health of our constituents," Frankel said, according to Action News 4.
John Donnelly, counsel to Rivers Casino, described the smoking ban as “a controversial issue,” given many casino patrons do smoke, while a similar number do not like it. According to him, the casino is not taking a stand against or for the proposal, and the venue will abide “by whatever the wisdom of Harrisburg is.”
Smokers in the state have shown discontent over the proposal, arguing smoking shouldn’t be banned. Some opposers have argued patrons who smoke won’t go outside to smoke a cigarette, leading Pennsylvania venues to lose business. However, Costa doesn’t believe this is the case.
"They've not lost revenue; patrons are continuing to come to those locations,” the senator said about venues that kept the smoking ban, according to Action News 4. “And we need to make sure that not only casinos but other locations are doing the same thing that needs to be done.”
Specifically, the new proposal would eliminate loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act that leave workers exposed to secondhand smoke; expand the definition of smoking to include e-cigarettes to combat the increase in vaping-related illnesses; and give all localities the ability to enact smoke-free ordinances that are more protective than state law.
“Let’s put to rest the myth that customers won’t come if they can’t smoke indoors,” Frankel added, arguing Parx, the state’s top revenue-generating casino, has a smoke ban. “That didn’t happen when smoking was banned on airplanes. It didn’t happen when smoking was banned in restaurants, and it won’t happen when indoor smoking is finally eliminated in casinos.”
Casino smoking ban is a current hot topic for New Jersey lawmakers as a proposed bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos picks up more bipartisan support. The Greater Atlantic City Chamber has issued a statement opposing the proposal, claiming that a smoking ban “would have a negative impact on the casino industry,” resulting in significant job losses and a decline in revenues. 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, according to a recent analysis by independent research and professional services firm Spectrum Gaming Group.