On December 7, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) issued an action alert which emphasized to its constituents how important it was to protect all workers from secondhand smoke, and therefore urged them to write New Jersey elected officials in support of a 100% smoke-free workplace law that would cover all casinos in the state. ANR emphasized the need to include casinos in this legislation, apparently anticipating political efforts to exempt the casinos:
"Senate Bill 1926 would protect all New Jersey workers from secondhand smoke by making all indoor public places and workplaces smokefree, including restaurants, bars, and casinos. ...Contact Acting Governor and Senate President Richard Codey, who has expressed support for a smokefree law, but prefers to exclude casinos. Let him know that you support a strong 100% smokefree law that includes casinos and will protect all workers, patrons, and visitors in New Jersey. ... If bars or casinos are exempted from the law, employees and guests in these workplaces will still have to breathe the toxic, smoke-filled air. Smokefree air is good for health and good for business, including casinos."
On January 5, ANR issued an action alert which claimed that Senate Bill 1926, which had been amended to exempt casinos, would protect all workers from secondhand smoke, but it left off the word "casinos" that had been included in the December action alert. It also omitted any reference to the need to protect casino workers and the fact that employees and guests in these workplaces would still have to breathe the "toxic," smoke-filled air:
"Today, New Jersey took one step closer to becoming a smokefree state! The New Jersey Assembly Health Committee voted 10-1 to pass Senate Bill 1926, which would make all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, 100% smokefree throughout the state."
The Rest of the Story
I find it interesting that when ANR wanted the legislature to include casinos in its regulation of smoking in workplaces, it described the legislation as making all indoor public places and workplaces smokefree, including restaurants, bars, and casinos.
However, after casinos were exempted and ANR apparently still wanted its constituents to support the legislation, the legislation suddenly was described as making all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, 100% smokefree throughout the state. Conveniently, the mention of "casinos" was dropped.
Apparently, casinos only count as workplaces when ANR wants to include casino workers in the legislation it wants its constituents to support, but when ANR wants its constituents to support a bill that exempts casinos, all of the sudden these establishments are somehow no longer workplaces.
How quickly ANR can change its tune when it faces a contradiction like this one. The acknowledgment that casinos were exempt was apparently too risky (perhaps constituents would no longer support the legislation), so this information was conveniently omitted from the action alert.
I don't think this is really an appropriate way to practice public health. It is hardly honest, transparent, and forthright to misrepresent a proposed public policy to this extent, to deceive the public, apparently intentionally (I would find it hard to believe that ANR was not aware that the bill exempted casinos) in an effort to advance a political goal: namely, promoting this faulty legislation that clearly did not meet ANR's original criteria.
The bottom line is that I think it is: (1) unethical, because it represents what I would consider to be massive deception of the public; and (2) insincere, because it means that ANR was not totally serious when it tried to convince its constituents how concerned it was that if casinos were exempted, workers would still have to breathe "toxic" air. If that was the case, then why did ANR support the amended legislation that required casino workers to breathe "toxic" air, and why did it fail to even mention this loophole in the bill, so its constituents could make up their own minds, on an informed basis, of whether to support or oppose the legislation.
Perhaps this is what is most disturbing to me. We, as public health practitioners, have a responsibility, I feel, to fully inform the public about all the aspects of a proposed public health policy. To only share one side of the story, omitting important details (such as the exemption for 48,000 workers) is not allowing the public and ANR's constituents to make a fully informed decision.