The vast majority of Washoe County residents are in favor of a law prohibiting smoking in all casinos and bars in Washoe County, according to results from a study in the Journal of Hospital Management and Health Policy (JHMHP).
The research project that is the foundation of the JHMHP study was spearheaded by Nevada scientist Eric Crosbie, Ph.D., M.A., an assistant professor with the University of Nevada, Reno School of Community Health Sciences and the Ozmen Institute for Global Studies. Crosbie also worked with scientists in other states on the analysis.
The stats: 60 percent of Washoe County residents (and 74 percent of Washoe County non-smokers) would favor a law prohibiting smoking in all casinos in Washoe County. Slightly more — 63 percent (and 74 percent of Washoe County non-smokers) favor a law prohibiting smoking in bars.
The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act (NCIAA), which was approved by Nevada voters in 2006, prohibits smoking in most public places. However, age-restricted bars and areas in casinos where only people age 21 and over are allowed are among the few remaining public places where indoor smoking/vaping is still permitted.
This new research shows marked increases in public support for new protections for employees and guests in casinos and bars since the NCIAA was passed 12 years ago. Then, 52.9 percent of Nevadans supported the exemption for casinos, while 44.6 percent supported it for bars. Nationally, a 2017 study shows 75% of U.S. adults favor smoke-free casinos.
The NCIAA expressly allows local governments to enact stricter clean indoor air laws than those at the state level. So lawmakers in Reno, Sparks and Washoe County can act to protect employees and guests in the Truckee Meadows. Churchill County did just that when it passed a law prohibiting smoking in a vehicle when a minor is present.
Everyone deserves to breathe clean air
Locally, an initiative called Smoke Free Truckee Meadows is advocating to end health disparities for employees and to protect guests who are breathing in deadly secondhand smoke in Truckee Meadows’ hospitality venues. Decades of scientific research confirm the immediate and serious health consequences of secondhand smoke exposure.
“In the Truckee Meadows, nearly 40,000 casino and bar employees are exposed to secondhand smoke and vapor at work while employees in every other workplace are protected,” said Christine Thompson, a board member of the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition. “We believe it is time to end this disparity. No one should have to choose between clean air and a paycheck.”
This new research from UNR, Thompson adds, shows just how much residents of the Truckee Meadows support equal access to smoke-free air for employees as they go about their daily work. Crosbie agrees that the issue of secondhand smoke exposure highlights a potentially deadly disparity among local employees.
“This is a highly relevant issue for Washoe County because casinos and bars are important establishments in the community,” Crosbie said in a Nevada Today article published by the University of Nevada, Reno. “However, tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death, but more importantly tobacco use in public places is a health equity and social justice issue as employees — such as table game dealers and bartenders — continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke.”
Other findings from Crosbie’s research:
- Only 24 percent of Washoe County residents (and 15 percent of Washoe County nonsmokers) would oppose the prohibition of tobacco smoking in casinos and bars
- 77 percent of residents dislike smelling like smoke after visiting a casino or bar
- 65 percent agree that smoke bothers them in these establishments
- A majority of residents would both be more likely to visit a casino and bar and also find them more enjoyable if they were completely smoke free
- 79 percent of residents believe customers should be able to breathe smoke-free air while only 21 percent believe businesses should be able to decide to allow smoking
Pandemic + smoking = a deadly combination
This research is especially relevant in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Nevada’s public places where smoking is allowed, smokers remove masks for the act of smoking — exhaling not only the toxins and dangerous chemicals in smoke, but also potentially exhaling COVID-19 virus droplets if they’re infected and therefore transmitting the virus to others around them. Crosbie and many of his academic and public health official peers advocated for re-opening bars/casinos smoke-free in order to protect the health of employees and guests alike. But Nevada officials did not act to do so.
Nationally, more than 200 casinos have reopened smoke-free under COVID-19 guidelines. Reports show COVID infection rates are low among casino employees, and revenue is up in those locations.
“(COVID-19) represents a real opportunity to establish smoke-free casinos and bars, and establishments in Washoe County should follow the lead of Park MGM in Vegas and go smoke free,” said Crosbie, as quoted in Nevada Today. “Casinos are moving away from traditional gambling and are diversifying to become more family-friendly establishments with arcades, shows, spas, swimming pools, movie theaters, etc. This expansion should be accompanied with safe and healthy smoke-free environments for these families, traditional gamblers and employees, especially during times of COVID.”
‘Everyone deserves an equal right to breathe clean air at work’
Residents of Northern Nevada who want to help end the disparity and support equal protection for bar/casino employees are invited to the Smoke Free Truckee Meadows website, where they can find the names of their local lawmakers and sample emails of support to encourage their representatives to pass comprehensive non-smoking laws. Truckee Meadows residents are also encouraged to sign a petition in support of changing local laws.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the ideal time to do it – during a pandemic that jeopardizes respiratory health,” Thompson said. “Everyone deserves an equal right to breathe clean air at work — casino and bar employees should not be the exception.”
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