Big Tobacco Tied to New Jersey Assembly Smoking Debate Leader

Posted on: December 19, 2023, 02:19h. 

Last updated on: December 28, 2023, 12:05h.

New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Burlington) has received political money from Big Tobacco, including Philip Morris US/Altria and the Cigar Association of America. That’s according to campaign finance records obtained by the Star-Ledger.

New Jersey casino smoking Lou Greenwald
New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald accepts the award for Legislator of the Year from the New Jersey Hospital Association in July 2023. Greenwald wants state lawmakers to slow down on their consideration of smoking inside Atlantic City casinos until the industry can present possible solutions to keep workers who want a clean air workplace free from smoke-filled areas. (Image: Instagram)

Greenwald has served in Trenton since 1996 and has held the position of majority leader in the Assembly for more than a decade. One of the most powerful lawmakers in New Jersey, Greenwald recently sided with the Atlantic City casino industry on considerations of requiring the nine gaming venues to go entirely smoke-free.

New reports suggest Greenwald has a financial incentive to back the casinos, which want to continue allowing indoor smoking in designated areas. Political finance records reveal that Greenwald has received more than $30K from groups tied to Big Tobacco.

Greenwald countered the Star-Ledger report by saying he’s no friend of Big Tobacco and would tax cigarettes “out of existence” if he could. He said his father died from a lifetime of tobacco use.

He has, nonetheless, accepted the Big Tobacco money, and used it to help light a fire under his political campaigns. He added that his donors don’t get to form his policy positions, but said considering input from various sides is important in policy discussions.

Greenwald thinks there might be more appropriate solutions to the casino smoking matter, such as enclosed smoking rooms where slots would operate. In July, Greenwald was named the Legislator of the Year by the New Jersey Hospital Association.

Organization Demands Return of Tobacco Money

CEASE, Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, is leading the grassroots effort to close the casino smoking loophole created through the state’s 2006 Smokefree Air Act. CEASE announced last week its intention to form a political action committee to fund candidates who support providing them with an indoor workplace free of toxic smoke.

CEASE told on Monday evening that Greenwald should return the more than $30K he’s received from Philip Morris US/Altria and other tobacco-related lobbyists.

For months, Lou Greenwald has been the leading proponent of creating Philip Morris smoking rooms and ensuring workers like us must continue to put our lives at risk every day. Now we know at least one reason why — he’s been taking their campaign contributions,” opined Pete Naccarelli, CEASE co-founder and an Atlantic City table games dealer. “The majority leader should stop putting the interests of casinos and Big Tobacco over workers and ordinary people and give back this money right away.

“He may talk a good game about caring about us workers. But that talk is cheap when he’s parroting industry talking points and undermining life-saving legislation after taking their money. It’s time to put our lives first,” Naccarelli added.

Greenwald says he’s concerned a full smoking ban will devastate casino revenue and lead to industrywide layoffs. It’s a view shared by the casino executives.

Resorts President Mark Giannantonio, who heads up the Casino Association of New Jersey, said a smoking ban would “have a significant adverse effect” on Atlantic City and its primary economic engine.

“We look forward to continuing this dialogue as we move forward, to find a compromise that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs and benefits to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Giannantonio said. “The casino industry will continue to work with stakeholders on a compromise that supports the betterment of the city, the tourism and gaming industries, and the collective interest of the entire Atlantic City workforce.”

Casinos Barred From Political Activity

State law in New Jersey prohibits casinos from directly making political contributions. But lobbyists and attorneys who work with the nine resorts can make donations to lawmakers supportive of policy matters impacting Atlantic City.

Greenwald says he has “zero relationship” with the casino industry. He believes any casino smoking change should protect not only casino workers’ health but also their jobs.

It’s really the perfect time to get in a room and hear one another,” Greenwald said of the casino smoking debate that’s expected to resume in the Trenton capital next year.

Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland) agrees.

“I want to keep in mind the health of the employees and the health of the patrons. But Atlantic City is in fairly bad shape. I don’t want this to be the nail in the coffin for the casino industry.”

Former New Jersey and current state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), who signed the 2006 Smokefree Air Act into law, said the “bad guys have won.”

“We have committed people to die from smoke inhalation. It’s a terrible, horrible death. I know. I’m a funeral director,” Codey said.