he City Council is expected to give final approval next week to a total smoking ban on the 11 casino floors. Smoking would still be permitted in enclosed smoking lounges where there would be no gambling.
New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act took effect April 15, 2006, prohibiting cigar, cigarette and pipe smoking in restaurants, bars, office buildings and other indoor spaces. It carries fines of us$ 250 to us$ 1,000 for people who light up and businesses that let them. The one big exception: Atlantic City casinos, which argued that a smoking ban would drive away business.
Although they opposed the casino exemption, anti-smoking groups generally supported the state law, even while vowing to work to include the gambling halls later on. Now the city, through a local ordinance, is poised to give them what they’ve been seeking.
"There are undoubtedly people alive today in New Jersey who wouldn’t be alive without that ban," said George DiFerdinando, a former acting state health commissioner who now leads NJ Breathes, a coalition of anti-smoking groups. "We didn’t like the compromise, but we knew it would instantly save lives."
There are about 80,000 fewer smokers in New Jersey than there were in 2005 and 2006, according to the state health department. "This landmark law has given us cleaner air in our workplaces, restaurants and other public places," said state Health Commissioner Heather Howard. "New Jersey residents and those who visit our state now enjoy the health benefits of smoke-free air, and this positive impact will be felt for generations."
Casino workers hope to feel it soon, too. About two dozen held a rally on the Boardwalk Tuesday to support the City Council proposal. "It’s been two years now, and dealers are still getting sick," said Nate Chait, a dealer at Caesars Atlantic City. "There will always be debate about whether a smoking ban will hurt profits. What’s not debatable is that second-hand smoke kills. From the bottom of our hearts, lungs and souls, we thank the City Council for their support of us."
Vince Rennich, a former dealer at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, blames the lung cancer he developed on years of breathing second-hand smoke in the casino. "It’s criminal that this was allowed to happen," he said. "I pray that no one else will have to go through what I did: losing part of my lung, my health and my job."
The Casino Association of New Jersey worries that the smoking ban will hurt revenue in an already bad economic climate, but said it will comply with it as long as the casinos have enough time to build the smoking lounges.
If passed next Wednesday, the ban would take effect October 15. Casinos would not be obligated to build the lounges; they would have the option to do so, or to ban smoking throughout the premises. State Senator James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, said exempting casinos from the state smoking ban "was a problem in the first place, frankly." "I understand the economic argument, but this is a health issue," he said. "It’s indefensible. The science is conclusive on this: second-hand smoke causes cancer and kills people."