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State Sen. Joe Vitale. (Photo: Senate Majority Office).

Senate Health Committee will hold discussion-only hearing on casino smoking bill

Anti-smoking groups praise decision after nearly two decades of delays

By Joey Fox, February 01 2023 2:15 pm

State Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) announced today that the committee he chairs, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, will hold a February 13 discussion-only hearing on a long-languishing bill to ban smoking inside New Jersey’s casinos.

“This hearing will give those engaged in the issue and impacted by the legislation the opportunity to express their views and share relevant information on the proposed casino smoking ban,” said Vitale, one of the prime sponsors of the bill. “We welcome a thorough discussion with the committee on how this bill will affect casino employees, customers and the gaming industry.”

The bill, which would eliminate a longstanding exemption for casinos in New Jersey’s anti-smoking laws, was first introduced in 2006, and has struggled to make headway ever since. It passed the Senate unanimously in 2007, but the Assembly didn’t take it up, and neither chamber has held a vote on it since then; one chief obstacle was former Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who was concerned about a smoking ban’s economic effects on casinos.

This session, the legislature’s intransigence has begun to look strange, given that Sweeney is gone and a bipartisan majority of legislators in both chambers support the bill: 23 senators and 51 assemblymembers. But new Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden) has been circumspect on his own feelings on the legislation and hasn’t pushed for a vote in his chamber.

The committee meeting in two weeks won’t do much to concretely advance the legislation, since it’s a discussion-only hearing. But anti-smoking advocacy groups still praised the decision to at least allow a debate on the bill.

“For the first time in nearly 17 years, this bill will finally have a hearing,” Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, one such advocacy group, said in a statement. “This is a massive step forward for protecting our health and treating us like every other worker in New Jersey.”

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