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After years of heated discussions, hours of testimony during three previous hearings and several postponed voting sessions, including one last month, the New Jersey State Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee has given the green light to legislation banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos.
The casino industry opposes the measure, while many casino workers support it.
During a jam-packed meeting Monday afternoon, Nicole Vitola, a casino blackjack dealer and the founder of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE), said her co-workers continue to suffer from heart disease, cancer and numerous health issues because of second-hand smoke.
“Dealers, in particular, are mere inches away from players blowing smoke in our faces. As a dealer myself, I can’t take my eyes off the game, leave the table, or wave the smoke away,” she said.
An overflow crowd cheered when the Committee approved the measure. (David Matthau/WHYY)
She told members of the Committee, “By allowing casino workers to be exposed to deadly secondhand smoke, you are knowingly allowing social inequalities, health disparities and injustices to exist in our state.”
Donna Decaprio, the president of the main casino workers union in Atlantic City, Local 54, urged the Committee to reject the proposed bill.
“A total ban is going to result in an economic catastrophe for Atlantic City, Atlantic County and the state, there are very broad reaching impacts of this,” she said.
She argued a smoking ban would eliminate 3,000 Atlantic City jobs, because gamblers who smoke would travel to Live Casino in Philadelphia, where smoking is permitted in 50% of the building.
Decaprio called for what she termed “a balanced compromise,” something in between a total ban and smoking everywhere.