Submitted by Christine Thompson, Smoke Free Truckee Meadows
You’re likely sick of hearing about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s one pocket of changed behavior that we shouldn’t sleep on in Nevada: the pandemic has adjusted gamblers’ perceptions of what is acceptable on the casino floor. For the Smoke Free Truckee Meadows initiative, a coalition of organizations championing smoke-free public places within our region, we cannot help but highlight these findings as they paint a changed landscape of gaming, one in which smoke does not linger over the heads and health of hospitality employees or gamblers, nor does its absence mar profits for casinos.
Since the inception of Smoke Free Truckee Meadows, our team members have collected data and anecdotes that illustrate the difficulties and health risks faced by many whose employers still allow smoking on premise.
The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, passed in 2006, protects most of us from secondhand smoke exposure in indoor workplaces. But nearly 40% of Nevada’s workforce — nearly 40,000 of whom are our family, friends, and neighbors here in Northern Nevada — are employed in the pockets of industry where smoking is still allowed, including gaming areas of casinos, strip clubs and age-restricted stand-alone bars. We have found that there are plenty of employees challenged by language barriers, geographic location or other socio-economic barriers that keep them from seeking a job where secondhand smoke is not a reality. Secondhand smoke can carry deadly consequences, just as smoking can.
As we have collected these stories and data points, we have also made cases to officials, legislators, and stakeholders that profits are not likely to decline if smoking was removed from their indoor premises. New Orleans is one prominent example of a thriving smoke-free gaming and bar city, as is the state of Colorado and a growing number of tribal gaming locations across America. There are many other examples, too.
Now, after 16 years of pushback here, we’re getting help directly from a pivotal Nevada industry, thanks in some small part to the pandemic.
As of June 2022, an independent report from C3 Gaming Group, a diverse network of independent, specialized gaming and hospitality consultants, substantiates the claim.
As reported by the AP News, the report “finds that ‘those casinos that implemented smoking prohibitions did not experience any drop in revenues or lost market share to nearby casinos that continued to offer smoking environments.’”
This is an important milestone in this fight to clear the air for all who work, play and live in the Truckee Meadows. Casinos in the Truckee Meadows have been reluctant to embrace the notion of truly smoke-free gaming floors. Though many have implemented smoke free sections or specific rooms for this activity, secondhand smoke still infiltrates air ducts and filters no matter how sophisticated the system, and, regardless of segregated spaces, still negatively impacts employees who have no choice but to be in its proximity.
Fortunately, the report on gaming profits not being impacted by smoke-free policies is not the only milestone.
The Food and Drug Administration recently announced it will be developing a proposed standard to curtail nicotine levels in cigarettes and other tobacco products. These standards will put a stricter ceiling on acceptable levels of nicotine in products in an effort to reduce cancer death rates by 50% in the next 25 years. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking causes “20% of all cancers and about 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States.” The organization cites smoking as shaving off an average of 10 years of life for smokers and highlights that tobacco use is responsible for one in five deaths every year.
While it’s encouraging to see the FDA take a big step in keeping children safer (this standard would be applied to vape as well as cigarette sales), and it is validating to know that gaming industry leaders have documented that the removal of smoking areas is unlikely to impact profits, our work is far from over.
We need to continue urging our elected leaders to implement policy that protects hospitality workers the same way the rest of our community is protected. And we must continue exerting pressure on employers who allow smoking – they can choose not to.
Survey data this year shows 58.2% of Nevadans support prohibiting smoking in casinos. People who smoke may do so at the risk of their own health, but Smoke Free Truckee Meadows has long held that it is our place to fight for a reality in which our community is free from workplace exposure to the harmful carcinogens and other toxins that secondhand smoke carries. We have long held that we should fight for those who do not have the luxury of resources to fight for themselves.
We know Northern Nevada casinos to be hospitable, charitable and community minded. Many demonstrate continuous support to those in need by lending in-kind space, talent and volunteers to community events and organizations. We are simply asking for one more consideration, vitally and equally important, to be extended to the employees and visitors who find themselves on their properties: the gift of a smoke-free environment, especially as it sets the stage for longer, happier lives for Nevadans (and isn’t likely to touch their profits).
Christine Thompson is an 18-year resident of Northern Nevada and leads Smoke Free Truckee Meadows, a group of organizations and individuals committed to ensuring smoke-free air in all indoor workplaces.
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