ACS CAN Testifies on the Impact of Cannabis Legalization on Smoke-Free Protections in New Jersey

November 9, 2020

Date:         November 9, 2020

To:             Members of Senate Judiciary Committee 

From:        Michael Davoli, New York City and New Jersey Government Relations Director


Re:             S-21 – New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act"

Good morning Chair Scutari - and distinguished members of Senate Judiciary Committee. My name is Michael Davoli and I am the New York City and New Jersey Government Relations Director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). ACS CAN, the non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society (ACS), is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem. 

I thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding S-21.  While ACS CAN has concerns about the legalization of cannabis, our objection today is strictly limited to concerns that cannabis legalization will undermine New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act. Specifically, we strongly object to permitting smoking in casinos, including cannabis.

It is critically important that marijuana legalization does not undermine the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act. New Jerseyans have the right to breath clean smoke-free air and that includes cannabis. We are calling on New Jersey leaders to strengthen the Smoke-Free Air Act to include marijuana and to prohibit all smoking in casinos.

We must protect the health of all casino employees and patrons by prohibiting smoking, including the use of marijuana. We must ensure everyone can breathe smoke-free air while they are working and enjoying all that the casinos offer.

Smoking marijuana poses significant risks to users and to those nearby. Marijuana smoking affects lung function including inflammation of the large airways, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation. Marijuana smoke contains the same fine particulate matter found in tobacco smoke that can cause heart attacks. Marijuana smoke contains many of the cancer-causing substances found in tobacco smoke.

The use of marijuana in public places unnecessarily exposes nonusers to marijuana smoke posing potential health risks. Furthermore, permitting the use of marijuana in public could compromise highly effective smoke-free laws. Comprehensive smoke-free laws are effective at protecting nonusers from exposure to secondhand smoke, reducing initiation, especially among youth, and increasing quit attempts by smokers.

The loophole in New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act that allows smoking in casinos is troubling enough. This loophole puts the health of casino employees at risk just to keep their jobs. Adding marijuana smoke to that loophole will only increase the risk to casino employees and patrons.

Authorizing the smoking of cannabis in New Jersey casinos at this time is especially troubling considering the continued Covid-19 crisis. With over 2,000 new cases reported yesterday and over 14,000 deaths statewide, we need to be strengthening smoke free protections rather than weakening them. 

While there’s no direct evidence yet showing that a history of smoking makes a person more likely to get Covid-19, there is evidence that smoking increases the risk of other types of viral lung infections. This increase in risk stems from changes in a person’s immune system, as well as damage to the cells lining the airways in the lungs.

According to the World Health Organization, being a current or former smoker may increase your risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Smoking impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other respiratory diseases. Furthermore, available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 outcomes and death.

We ask the Legislature to work together to protect all New Jerseyans and tourists by closing the casino loophole and prohibiting all smoking, including cannabis, in casinos.