Make all public places 100 percent smoke free

As a cardiologist and regional president of the American Heart Association in New Jersey, I remain gravely concerned about our state’s safeguards against exposure to second-hand smoke, specifically as this unresolved public health issue lingers in Atlantic City casinos.

The link between second-hand smoke and cardiovascular disease is indisputable. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 35,000 heart disease deaths annually are associated with environmental tobacco smoke.

The New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act enacted in April 2006 was a historic act of public health to protect New Jerseyans and visitors of our great state from the dangers of second-hand smoke. Although good intentioned, it failed to protect a specific segment of the population who, unfortunately, remain most at risk for sustained exposure to smoke. Casino employees as well as patrons and visitors remain at increased risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and other illnesses.

A study by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services showed 93 percent of New Jersey adults support restricting smoking in casinos, including three out of every four smokers. In just one week more than 5,000 signatures were secured on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in support of restricting smoking. The people spoke. Our local and state officials should listen.

Economic woes became one more reason to smoke when the decision to ban smoking in the casinos was reversed. Yet we continue to accept the staggering financial burden of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, estimated by the American Heart Association at $400 billion annually in health care expenditures and lost productivity. This is simply unacceptable.

Cigarette smoking is one of the most controllable risk factors to prevent heart disease, cancer, and stroke, our state’s three leading killers. Yet, this health hazard remains anything but controlled in Atlantic City. It is unconscionable that only a select group of employees in New Jersey must work unprotected, vulnerable and at increased risk for illness.

Enhancing public health status strengthens our community and our economy. And it’s the right thing to do. As Atlantic City elected officials revisit the current smoking ordinance this October, which currently permits smoking on 25 percent of the gambling floor, let’s resolve to remove the smokescreen by making all public places 100 percent smoke free.

Howard Levite

Regional President

American Heart Association – American Stroke Association