Casino workers are speaking up about how they feel when it comes to indoor smoking at their workplace. Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE), which started in New Jersey, announced Wednesday that it’s expanding with new chapters for Rhode Island and Pennsylvania casinos.

The announcement came at the industry’s flagship event, Global Gaming Expo (G2E), held annually in Las Vegas.

Like New Jersey, the CEASE Pennsylvania and Rhode Island chapters are worker-led, focused on creating a working environment free from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. CEASE expects to grow into other states that still allow smoking inside casinos, such as Indiana, Michigan and Nevada.

Trading one’s health for a paycheck

CEASE came about in 2021 when Atlantic City casinos reintroduced indoor smoking after temporarily banning it during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For nearly a year, employees could work in a smoke-free environment, and casinos’ bottom lines did not suffer. Neither did the lungs of gaming floor employees, who are exposed to more secondhand smoke than any other profession.

So, a trio of Borgata table game dealers, Pete Naccarelli, Nicole Vitola and Lamont White, decided they had enough and quickly began working with casino workers and public health advocacy organizations to invoke change on a comprehensive level.

“We’re making it easy for workers who may be nervous about speaking up to finally take that first step to stop choosing between their health and a paycheck,” said Naccarelli. “We are sick and tired of risking our health over the false perception that casinos will make more money by brushing aside our legitimate concerns. No casino in America should have indoor smoking, period.”

Quick growth, and for good reason

Casinos are some of the only places in the US that still allow indoor smoking on a mass scale. However, the momentum is on CEASE’s side regarding the cultural and political trends toward smoking bans and restrictions nationwide.

CEASE has already garnered local support from:

  • New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
  • The entire Atlantic City delegation
  • A majority of the NJ Assembly and Senate health committees
  • A majority of the South Jersey Assembly Democrats

It has also gone to states such as Rhode Island, Indiana, Nevada and Pennsylvania, sharing the successes it has already accomplished.

“While we’ve gotten 90 yards down the field with New Jersey legislators and still have more work to do to get our bills across the goal line, we have learned a lot over the last 16 months that we want to share with our peers across the country,” said White. “We’ll do anything we can to ensure that no casino worker has to breathe secondhand smoke at their job ever again. Those days will soon be over.”

These efforts have already inspired Rhode Island and Pennsylvania employees to start their own chapters. More will follow, and strength will only grow with numbers. The CEASE Facebook group is now approaching 3,000 members.

Smoking bans won’t hurt casinos’ bottom lines

A recent study confirmed a smoking ban would not hurt casinos’ business, even in the short term. Over 1,000 casinos already prohibit smoking nationwide, and 19 states have banned smoking in casinos on the state level.

Places like Colorado, Illinois and Ohio have long banned smoking in their casinos. While others like Connecticut and North Carolina have retained their bans since 2020. Even more, like Parx and Rivers Casino Philadelphia voluntarily ban smoking despite it remaining legal in Pennsylvania.

The casino industry continues to grow, too, and as it does, so will the percentage of non-smoking casinos. Eventually, that number will reach a tipping point and cause industry-wide change.

In time, CEASE’s efforts will be successful in banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos. Of course, it will take some more time before the last dominos fall nationwide (think Las Vegas).

But who knows? I can see a world where we celebrate our kids’ (or grandkids’) 21st birthdays inside a smoke-free Vegas casino.

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