Atlantic City casino workers, in their ongoing effort to achieve a smoke-free workplace, recently found themselves advocating in an unexpected location – a senator’s office.
Activists from Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) and United Casino Workers (UAW) were protesting Senator Vince Polistina’s recent shift in stance. Previously a supporter of smoke-free initiatives, Polistina recently suggested that casinos should explore compromise solutions instead.
With the cold weather outside, the protestors were invited indoors to further discuss the issue.
CEASE Concerned About “Voluntary” Smoking Area Staffing
Under the current New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, casinos are allowed to designate up to 25% of their indoor gaming areas for smoking. Critics argue this puts casino workers’ health at risk, as they endure prolonged exposure to smoke. Casino operators counter that a complete ban could negatively impact their businesses.
While it’s been noted that other states have implemented smoking bans in casinos without significantly harming business, Atlantic City operators are reluctant to eliminate smoking entirely. Some have suggested compromise solutions, like creating enclosed smoking areas staffed by “volunteers.” However, CEASE fears that workers would be coerced into volunteering, citing past instances of casinos assigning smoking tables to vulnerable employees, including a pregnant woman and a cancer patient.
Polistina Open to Supporting a Smoking Ban
Senator Polistina expressed his agreement with the anti-smoking activists, acknowledging that New Jersey should progress beyond indoor smoking. However, he noted that recent political shifts, including the loss of South Jersey Democratic seats, make advocating for a smoking ban more challenging.
Polistina also highlighted opposition from Unite Here Local 54, another significant union representing casino staff, which fears a smoking ban might drive patrons away. Local 54, with its larger membership compared to UAW, exerts considerable influence on such issues.
Nevertheless, Senator Polistina committed to voting for a smoking ban in casinos if the opportunity arises in the Senate.
Balancing Health Concerns and Business Interests
The debate over smoking in Atlantic City casinos highlights the challenge of balancing public health concerns with business interests. While workers advocate for a healthier work environment, operators and some unions worry about the potential impact on patronage and revenue.
The ongoing struggle for a smoke-free environment in Atlantic City casinos underscores the complex interplay between employee health and business viability. Senator Polistina’s willingness to vote for a ban, despite political and industry pressures, reflects the evolving discourse on workplace safety and public health in the casino industry.