Smokers’ Wild

Last fall, five buddies and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate us all turning 50. We had an absolute blast, including having fun in the casinos.

When entering the casinos, I was on sensory overload from all the bright, flashing lights and loud sounds. I was then immediately overwhelmed by the smell of smoke. Wisconsin banned smoking in public buildings in 2010, so I had almost forgotten what it was like to be engulfed.

Thankfully, after having some great luck at the craps table, due in large part to Timmy, our mathematical genius friend, we forgot about the smoke. That is, until we got back to our hotel room and realized that we smelled like a chimney.

We only had to endure the smoke for one weekend. Casino employees, however, can’t escape it.

That’s what caused Pete Naccarelli and Lamont White to co-found Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE). They formed the grassroots coalition in New Jersey in 2021 to end smoking inside casinos.

After unsuccessfully working for more than three years to get lawmakers to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos, CEASE and the United Auto Workers filed a lawsuit last month in New Jersey Superior Court claiming casino smoke violates the state’s indoor clean air law. In 2006, New Jersey passed legislation banning smoking in enclosed indoor spaces and workplaces. Casinos, however, were exempted from the law’s protections, with smoking allowed on 25% of the casino floor.

The lawsuit names Governor Phil Murphy and Dr. Kaitlan Baston, the state’s acting health commissioner. Murphy has indicated that he would sign a smoking ban into law if state lawmakers would pass one.

“This legislation was supposed to protect everyone from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But somehow, our casino workers have been asked to roll the dice, all in the name of corporate greed,” UAW President Shawn Fain said. “Every worker deserves safety on the job, and every person deserves equal protection under the law. By leaving out casino workers, the state of New Jersey isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.”

Joseph Vitale, a New Jersey state senator, released a statement in support of the lawsuit, saying, “The state of New Jersey has failed casino workers in Atlantic City for 18 years. We let a false argument about economics subjugate our duty to protect the people we serve and in doing so, we allowed corporations to poison their employees for nearly two decades.”

UAW’s region 9 represents workers in New Jersey, including more than 3,000 in the Bally’s, Caesars and Tropicana casinos in Atlantic City, “many of whom have suffered, and continue to suffer severe health problems as a result of having to work in secondhand smoke,” according to the complaint. Casino workers “have cancer and other diseases related to smoking, although they don’t smoke,” the document stated.

The Casino Association of New Jersey, a trade group that represents all nine Atlantic City casinos, has opposed the smoking ban. They argue that such a prohibition would put them at a disadvantage in competing with casinos in the 20 other states that allow smoking, some of which border New Jersey.

According to a 2022 report from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, 26 states had commercial casinos employing more than 745,000 people. Of those, 22,796, or 3%, worked in New Jersey. However, casino employees in Kansas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and even Nevada are also working to ban smoking.

I hope CEASE has better luck than I did betting on horse racing. I bet on a horse at 10 to 1; he crossed the finish line at quarter after 3.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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