A 75 Percent “Smoke Free Zone” in Casinos…Only in New Jersey

It just doesn’t make sense. Last week an ordinance was passed in the Atlantic City municipal council that would bar smoking on only 75 percent of any casino floor and leave the remaining 25 percent as designated smoking areas. The casinos are required to set up this bizarre system by April 15. It is being called a “compromise,” but I call it a cop-out. Last year, New Jersey state officials finally came to their senses and banned smoking in virtually all public places, but casinos were left out of the deal. Again, it was called a “compromise.” The municipal council in Atlantic City was under pressure from public health groups and casino workers to do something. Legislation has been proposed in Trenton that would no longer exempt casinos from New Jersey’s new smoking ban in public places. On February 7 the Atlantic City council voted 6-3 to pass this wacky 75/25 percent ordinance. Think about it. The council is saying that virtually every other worker in every conceivable industry has the right to work in a healthy, smoke-free environment; but if you work in a casino, you get the shaft. Customers in the casinos will have to put up with smoking in one-quarter of the casino floors. Supposedly some “ventilation system” is to be put in place that would keep cancer-causing second-hand smoke away from the three-quarters of the casino floor designated as non-smoking. Personally, I’ve never seen a ventilation system in a restaurant or other place that keeps smoke away from so-called “smoke free” areas. That’s what happens with smoke. It doesn’t respect barriers. It just goes where it goes, into people’s lungs that have no desire to be around it. The casino industry put heavy pressure on the Atlantic City council to reach this deal. I respect the casino industry and the jobs and revenue it creates. I also appreciate that we have legalized gambling in New Jersey because I have a thing for black jack. The casino industry argued that up to 20 percent of its revenue and potentially 3,400 jobs could be lost if 25 percent of the casino floor didn’t remain a smoker’s paradise. Assume the argument is true, and I have no reason to believe that it’s not; but I’m just wondering at what point did we decide that commerce trumps (excuse the pun) public health? It makes no sense. You can’t spit on the floor in a casino or they will throw you out–same thing is true in a restaurant. You can’t take gum out of your mouth and stick it on the poker table next to your drink in a casino. It’s disgusting. It’s dirty. In fact, did you ever notice all those signs in restaurant bathrooms reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work? What do you think that’s about?–Public health and protecting it. So let me get this straight. You can’t spit, you can’t stick gum anywhere you want and workers are supposed to wash their hands when they leave the bathroom; but you can blow smoke from cigarettes, a known carcinogen, on 25 percent of the casino floor? Further, if a worker in a casino argues that he doesn’t want to work in the 25 percent area because he feels it is a danger to his health, what is supposed to happen to him? Can he be fired? Is he protected? And check this out. If all the smokers are crammed into that 25 percent area of the casino floor, isn’t that going to create a greater concentration of smoke? Doesn’t that become a potentially greater health hazard? I don’t get it. Only in New Jersey can something like this happen and have government officials who made it happen call it a “compromise” or worse yet, some sort of “victory.” It’s nuts. It’s a disgrace. And the reason it was allowed to happen is because our leaders in Trenton didn’t have the guts to ban smoking in EVERY public place, including casinos. They should have never left it up to the municipal council in Atlantic City to deal with this issue. I say to our leaders in the Statehouse, stop playing games and fast track existing legislation that would ban smoking in casinos. I’m confident the governor would sign it. That law would then supersede any municipal ordinance passed in Atlantic City. After all, isn’t that why we have a state government?–To protect us, particularly when it comes to our health? Maybe I’m wrong, or I am missing something here. Write to me, and let me know what you think at sadubato@aol.com

A 75 Percent “Smoke Free Zone” in Casinos…Only in New Jersey