Lawsuit says Atlantic City casino workers are exposed to harmful secondhand smoke

Lawsuit says Atlantic City casino workers are exposed to harmful secondhand smoke
  • PublishedApril 6, 2024

Smoky, hazy gambling floors have long been part of the Atlantic City casino experience for some people. But on Friday, the United Auto Workers and another group filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s health commissioner claiming that a loophole in state law exposes casino workers to health problems from secondhand smoke.

The lawsuit alleges Murphy and Kaitlan Baston, the state health commissioner, have failed to protect the safety of the casino workers by excluding them from the protections of the Smoke-Free Air Act.

The act, passed in 2006, prohibits smoking in enclosed indoor public places and workplaces — but a section of it exempts casino workers from the law’s protection, the lawsuit claimed.

This exclusion is unconstitutional in New Jersey, according to the lawsuit, because it grants favoritism to the casinos. Workers were also denied their state constitutional right to safety and equal protection, the lawsuit said.

Casino workers have long been advocating for protections under the 2006 smoke-free law, but progress has been snagged for years in the New Jersey legislature.

The United Auto Workers union — which represents workers in Bally’s, Caesars and Tropicana casinos in New Jersey — filed the lawsuit along with a group called Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects.

CEASE says some of its members have come down with cancer and other diseases related to smoking, even though they don’t smoke themselves.

“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,” UAW President Shawn Fain said at a press conference Friday.

The casino workers have faced “death, severe physical illness, severe mental, physical and emotional distress, pain and suffering, anxiety, and stress,” the lawsuit said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the statehouse, in Trenton, NJ, Tuesday, January 9, 2024.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the statehouse, in Trenton, NJ, Tuesday, January 9, 2024. Matt Rourke/AP

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the exclusion of workers from the Smoke-Free Act was unconstitutional and attorney’s fees and costs.

The New Jersey Health Department and Murphy’s office said they do not comment on pending litigation.

Though New Jersey lawmakers made some advances in January, local news reported, progress for casino worker protections has long faced obstacles. Murphy said to New Jersey News 12 in 2021 that “you should assume” he would sign a bill banning smoking in casinos, according to a video posted to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation website.

On the gambling floor

Some patrons at Bally’s Atlantic City on Friday said cigarettes hinder their experience.

One regular, Mark, said to CNN Friday afternoon that indoor smoking was banned during the pandemic and that it wasn’t an inconvenience.

The patrons did not share their last names with CNN for privacy reasons.

Murphy reinstated a smoking ban in casinos on September 4, 2020, the lawsuit said, after they had been closed at the start of the pandemic. Smoking resumed fully in July 2021, after Murphy signed an executive order.

Melody, a teacher from Middletown, New Jersey, said the smoke makes her time at the slots “miserable.” She said her eyes tear up and her clothes reek, and that she’d visit Atlantic City more often if smoking was banned.

“You can’t miss it,” she said, sitting at a non-smoking machine with a used ashtray on it.

But of course, for many, smoking is a quintessential part of the gambling experience. At Caesars Atlantic City, whose ground floor has slot machines glowing as far as the eye can see, visitors can still smell the smoke from some non-smoking sections.

“They stop smokin’, I’m outta here,” said Bill, 91, who was smoking a Pall Mall Blue 100 cigarette. Bill said he had been playing the slots since the previous evening and plays at Caesars two or three times a week.

CNN has reached out to Caesars Entertainment and Bally’s for comment.

SOURCE: CNNNEWS

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