Saturday, December 13, 2014

End all smoking in casinos

TOM GRALISH / Staff photographer
TOM GRALISH / Staff photographer

Casino company executives and industry experts recently met to discuss issues such as rapid expansion and competition in the regional gaming market at the 18th annual East Coast Gaming Congress, held in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, one item left off the agenda was a public-health issue of great importance: the thousands of workers and patrons being exposed to secondhand smoke inside Pennsylvania and New Jersey casinos. The time has come to move toward smoke-free casinos to create a healthier environment for employees and patrons.

Workplace exposure to secondhand smoke at places like casinos remains a top preventable cause of rising health-care costs, chronic disease, and premature death. In January, the U.S. surgeon general issued a report adding stroke to a long list of health effects caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Exposure for as little as 30 minutes causes immediate effects on blood and blood vessels that raise the risk of a heart attack. In 2006, the surgeon general reported that there is no known safe level of exposure, and the only known way to fully protect health is to have 100 percent smoke-free indoor air.

A recent journal article by a senior scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that casino workers employed where indoor smoking is permitted have a significantly higher risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and lung cancer - even when smoking is limited to certain casino areas or when high-tech ventilation is employed. With about 50,000 employees working at Atlantic City casinos and those across Pennsylvania, this is a significant workplace safety issue.

If the dangerous health impacts of exposure are not compelling reason enough for casinos to be smokefree, casino companies and state decision makers should consider the disadvantages of allowing secondhand smoke in Pennsylvania and New Jersey casinos when it comes to their regional gaming competition. Most casino patrons do not smoke, just as 82 percent of the U.S. population does not.

Casino expansion is heating up as nearby states compete for the same pool of patrons. A recent Econsult report to the legislature, "The Current Condition and Future Viability of Casino Gaming in Pennsylvania," suggests that while the state's casinos have made gains "cannibalizing" patrons from New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia, they are open to this same risk of losing patrons to Ohio, Maryland, and New York, which all have smoke-free casinos.

There are now more than 500 successful smoke-free casinos and other gambling facilities in the United States. Pennsylvania and New Jersey should add themselves to the mix. There are health professionals, architects, engineers, and managers who could help our casinos make the transition.

Executives, workers, and patrons from states where casinos are smoke-free extol the benefits. Just recently, the manager of the newly reopened and smoke-free Win-River Resort and Casino in Redding, Calif., called it the best decision the casino ever made, from both a health and business perspective. Smokers at those establishments simply go outside, as they would at almost any other public place in the country.

Increasingly, patrons expect smoke-free indoor air, and soon it will be the norm. The sooner Pennsylvania and New Jersey adopt the idea, the sooner worker and patron health will benefit - and the sooner our casinos can compete for patrons and employees who want to come here instead of traveling to our smoke-free neighbors.


Deborah Brown is the president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

Deborah Brown
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