Atlantic City Casino Smokers Can Light Up July 4, Anti-Smoking Crowd Fuming

Posted on: June 30, 2021, 02:12h. 

Last updated on: June 30, 2021, 02:42h.

This weekend, Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, the nation’s Independence Day. And for smokers who like to gamble in Atlantic City, come Sunday, they will receive back their freedom to consume tobacco inside on the gaming floors. 

Atlantic City casino smoking New Jersey
Atlantic City casino workers who want indoor smoking permanently banned gathered today, June 30. On Sunday, July 4, gamblers can light back up inside casinos. (Image: AP)

Indoor casino smoking in Atlantic City has been suspended since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the US in early 2020. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) lifted nearly all coronavirus-related casino orders in mid-May. But one state mandate, the temporary suspension of indoor smoking, remained.

However, Murphy’s indoor smoking ban expires at 12:01 am ET on July 4. During his COVID-19 press conference today, the first-term governor said he is open to signing legislation that would permanently outlaw casino smoking. 

“Would I be open-minded, would I be constructive on legislation — because I need to do this statutorily — that could come to me in the future to extend that ban or make it permanent? I would be constructive,” Murphy declared.

Not Good Enough

Anti-smoking advocates quickly responded to Murphy. 

Casino workers will now have to choose between a paycheck and their health, and guests will have to endure the secondhand smoke that doesn’t abide by so-called smoking sections,” said Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “It’s like having a peeing section of a pool — it doesn’t work,” Hallett added.

Hallett nonetheless said she was “encouraged” by Murphy’s willingness to further the casino smoking discussion. 

Casinos were provided an exemption under the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006. The bill seeks to ensure employees have smoke-free workplaces. But casinos can designate up to 25 percent of their gaming space for smoking. 

The Casino Association of New Jersey opposes a complete indoor smoking ban. 

“Going completely nonsmoking would place Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other nearby casinos that allow smoking,” a CANJ statement earlier this year argued. 

Air Filtration Systems Questioned

The anti-smoking advocates were out in full force today. Along with responding to Murphy’s comments regarding indoor smoking returning to Atlantic City casinos this weekend, the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights unveiled a study that questions the effectiveness of casino filtration systems.

“There is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of [environmental tobacco smoke] to an acceptable level,” said the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). 

Hallett added in a statement to that those same ASHRAE engineers are responsible for designing the air filtration systems found inside Atlantic City casinos. 

The engineers who know these filtration and ventilation systems best say they do not protect casino employees and guests from the well-established harms of secondhand smoke exposure,” Hallett asserted. “Industry claims suggesting otherwise should be scrutinized closely, and gaming companies should never be mistaken for public health or engineering experts.”

Casinos argue that their air purification systems greatly reduce tobacco chemicals from the air. CANJ said in April that casinos have “invested in state-of-the-art air filtration systems that circulate fresh air.”