Law’s passage brings pride to Princeton


By: Packet Editorial
   You’ll forgive the Princeton Regional Health Commission if it’s glowing with a little pride of authorship these days.
   One can’t say for certain that the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, passed by the lame-duck Legislature on Monday and slated to be signed into law on Sunday by lame-duck Gov. Richard Codey, would never have gotten this far without our local Health Commission’s efforts.
   But one can say for certain that it was the Princeton panel’s initiative that got this ball rolling when it adopted an ordinance in 2000 that outlawed smoking in all restaurants, bars and other public places in the borough and township.
   That ordinance was subsequently nullified by a Superior Court judge on the ground that state law gave the Legislature the sole authority to regulate smoking in public places. But the movement to clear the air in New Jersey restaurants, bars and other public places had officially begun, and the momentum it gathered over the next five years ultimately led to the landmark legislation that gained final approval this week — and will take effect in mid-April of this year.
   New Jersey thus becomes the 11th state to ban smoking in public places — following the lead of California, New York and other enlightened jurisdictions that have come to recognize not only the adverse health effects, but also the fiscal impact of subjecting large numbers of their citizens to the dangers of secondhand smoke. The enormous expense of insuring, hospitalizing and treating victims of secondhand smoke — not to mention the countless hours of productivity lost to illnesses and diseases associated with exposure to tobacco products — convinced even the most ardent civil libertarians in the Legislature that the greater public good trumped the sacred canon of "smokers’ rights."
   Except in casinos.
   The one glaring loophole in the law Gov. Codey is about to sign is the exemption a bloc of South Jersey lawmakers managed to carve out for Atlantic City’s gaming halls. In their hotel rooms, lobbies, restaurants, bars and other public spaces, smoking will be banned — but on the casino floor itself, it will still be permitted. This was the concession the bill’s sponsors had to make to get the votes necessary to assure passage in both legislative houses.
   Purists will argue that this was too great a concession — that workers and patrons on the casino floors are just as entitled to protection against secondhand smoke as their counterparts in restaurants, bars and other public places. But clinging to this principle would have doomed the bill — and, with it, the opportunity to ban smoking in virtually every public place in New Jersey other than a casino floor. In our view, though the casino exemption represents an unconscionable sellout to an industry that deserves no special treatment when it comes to protecting public health, passing the less-than-perfect bill was still the right thing to do.
   In the new legislative session, which began Tuesday, giving prompt approval to a measure already filed by Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) to rescind the casino exemption would be an appropriate encore.
   In the meantime, we applaud lawmakers of both parties who supported the smoking-ban bill, the outgoing governor who will soon sign it and the statewide organizations that lobbied so hard for its passage. We reserve our heartiest congratulations, however, for the members of the Princeton Regional Health Commission, the original movers and shakers in this arduous but ultimately rewarding endeavor. All of the health-conscious (and cost-conscious) citizens of New Jersey owe you a deep debt of gratitude.