Deadly Poison:Secondhand Smoke

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Conflicting Smoking Rules

How is it possible at this late hour in the anti-smoking movement there remains one or two Vegas casino that are either non-smoking or even provide a serious non-smoking section? Why everywhere else and not Nevada?

The official answer: Because they can.

The long-standing claim in Las Vegas has always been that gamblers are smokers, and that the activities literally go hand-in-hand for an important population. Those claims are starting to lose their credibility, though, as casino gambling has become both popular and socially acceptable while smoking has become unpopular and socially offensive. There have been a few case studies promulgated by the casino industry’s lobby, the American Gaming Association, suggesting that casinos forced by local law to go smoke-free have suffered financially with reduced profits and customers defecting to casinos in smoker-friendly locales. However, most of those studies don’t take into account other factors such as, say, a devastating recession or the debut of a new, competing resort.

What we do know is that pretty much every poker room in Las Vegas has been smoke-free for years without issue. Aria just made its sports book non-smoking as well, a first.

Around the city, there are some smoke-free bingo parlors or sections of bingo parlors, and a Las Vegas Advisor website that tracks non-smoking offerings indicates that there are supposedly smoke-free banks of slot machines and non-smoking table games here and there, though the signage is frequently hard to spot and enforcement is modest at best. MGM spokesman Alan Feldman added that if a gambler sidles up to an empty table at MGM casinos in Vegas and asks for it to be non-smoking, it will be deemed thus for however long that player remains there, though Feldman acknowledged he didn’t know how guests would know about that rule.

The “Gamblers are Smokers” Myth

The big question has been: is the number of gamblers who smoke more in line with what the gaming industry has claimed, upward to 70 percent, or is it more in line with what health organizations throughout the country have suggested, that the number of gamblers who smoke is similar to the overall percentage of the U.S. population that smokes?

A new study by a University of Nevada, Reno researcher indicates that approximately four out of five gamblers in Nevada are non-smokers. The results suggest that the economic implications of smoking bans throughout the United States may not be as great as originally believed.

According to data in the study that included 17,000 gamblers in the state’s primary tourist/casino centers – Las Vegas, Reno/Sparks and Lake Tahoe – similar results were found for all three locales. About 21.5 percent of gamblers in Las Vegas were smokers; 22.6 percent of gamblers in Reno/Sparks were smokers; 17 percent of gamblers in Lake Tahoe were smokers.

“This has been a big issue not only for Nevada but nationally and internationally, wherever gaming is allowed,” said Chris Pritsos, a professor of nutrition at the University who conducted the study.

“These issues have recently come to the forefront with the ballot initiatives, Questions 4 and 5, during the last election in Nevada, as well as a recent smoking ban in Colorado, where gaming was exempted at the last minute and with a recent Atlantic City, New Jersey City Council proposed ordinance that would ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos.

“The big question has been: is the number of gamblers who smoke more in line with what the gaming industry has claimed, upward to 70 percent, or is it more in line with what health organizations throughout the country have suggested, that the number of gamblers who smoke is similar to the overall percentage of the U.S. population that smokes?

“This is a critically important distinction to make, as much of the argument against banning smoking in public places has centered around the economic impact such bans would have on industries like gaming.” Pritsos worked with state health agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in formulating, funding and executing the study.

“The percentages we found were very similar to the overall percentage of the U.S. population that smokes, which is 20.9 percent,” Pritsos said.

“These numbers are far below the 70 percent figure that is often put forward by pro-smoking groups and individuals.”

Pritsos said the study also found that the percentage of gamblers who smoke at rural casinos is about 36.5 percent, and the percentage of gamblers who smoke at local grocery, drug and convenience stores in Nevada is about 42 percent.

“Although these numbers are higher than the numbers we found for casino/tourist destinations, they are still well below the 70 percent figure that you always hear,” Pritsos said.

“The percentage of smokers at small rural or non-tourist dependent gaming establishments may better reflect the percentage of smokers in those local/rural communities than that of the overall U.S. population. Overall, when you take all of these numbers together, the results suggest that the percent of gamblers who smoke at tourist destination casinos are almost identical to the overall percentage of smokers in the U.S.”

The Costs of Propagating this Myth

Air pollution levels from secondhand smoke in some casinos are so high that less than two hours of exposure could put nonsmoking casino patrons and workers at acute risk of heart disease, a new study says.

Smoke-free casinos in the U.S. are rare, with 88 percent of commercial casinos and all tribal casinos allowing smoking. The new report by scientists at Stanford and Tufts universities, published in the journal Environmental Research, indicates the toll that secondhand smoke in casinos is taking — even in casinos providing nonsmoking areas and using ventilation and air cleaning systems to control smoke levels.

“Casino patrons are gambling not only with their money, but with their health, and the odds are stacked against them,” Lynn Hildemann, a Stanford engineering professor and the principal investigator for the study, told Stanford University News.

The researchers measured particles from secondhand smoke inside and outside eight casinos in the Reno, Nev., area, and combined that data with previous studies, to evaluate a total of 66 U.S. casinos. Particles in about half the casinos exceeded a level known to impair the heart’s ability to pump blood after less than two hours of exposure, “posing acute health risks to patrons and workers,” the study says.

Air pollution levels exceeded World Health Organization standards in 93 percent of the smoking casinos, according to the report. Nonsmoking restaurants in casinos with no structural separation from gaming areas also showed “quite high” levels of particulates.

“Creating nonsmoking areas isn’t offering very much protection,” Hildemann told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

An official at the Silver Legacy casino in Reno touted its air filtration system. “We have two major venting systems that move air, so much so that you can stand outside the cafe or Brew Brothers and feel your pant legs moving, you can feel the air moving,” General Manager Gary Carano said.

But Hildemann said that the only effective control for secondhand smoke is reducing the number of smokers. “The fewer smokers, the less polluted the air,” she said.

 Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer.

Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million adults who were nonsmokers died because they breathed secondhand smoke.

There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and ear infections.
  • Smoking during pregnancy results in more than 1,000 infant deaths annually.
  • Some of the health conditions caused by secondhand smoke in adults include coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

Exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and can cause coronary heart disease and stroke.

  • Secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers.
  • Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25–30%.
  • Secondhand smoke increases the risk for stroke by 20−30%.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure causes more than 8,000 deaths from stroke annually.

Breathing secondhand smoke can have immediate adverse effects on your blood and blood vessels, increasing the risk of having a heart attack.

  • Breathing secondhand smoke interferes with the normal functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that increase the risk of having a heart attack.
  • Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can damage the lining of blood vessels and cause your blood platelets to become stickier. These changes can cause a deadly heart attack.

People who already have heart disease are at especially high risk of suffering adverse effects from breathing secondhand smoke and should take special precautions to avoid even brief exposures.

Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in adults who have never smoked.

  • Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20–30%.
  • Secondhand smoke causes more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.
  • Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers.
  • Even brief secondhand smoke exposure can damage cells in ways that set the cancer process in motion.
  • As with active smoking, the longer the duration and the higher the level of exposure to secondhand smoke, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer.

What Can Be Done

Tobacco users can

  • Quit. The sooner you quit, the sooner your body can begin to heal, and the less likely you are to get sick from tobacco use.
  • Ask a health care provider for help quitting and call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free assistance.
  • Find a step-by-step quit guide at www.smokefree.gov.

State and community leaders can

  • Fund comprehensive tobacco control programs at CDC-recommended levels.
  • Enact 100% smoke-free indoor air policies that include workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
  • Increase the price of all tobacco products.
  • Implement hard-hitting media campaigns that raise public awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Use the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s)
    MPOWER strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use and to make tobacco products less accessible, affordable, attractive, and accepted.
    M=Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies
    P=Protect people from tobacco smoke
    O=Offer help to quit
    W=Warn about the dangers of tobacco use
    E=Enforce restrictions on tobacco advertising
    R= Raise taxes on tobacco

Parents and nonsmokers can

  • Make your home and vehicles smoke-free.
  • Not start, if you aren’t already using tobacco.
  • Quit if you smoke; children of parents who smoke are twice as likely to become smokers.
  • Teach children about the health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Encourage friends, family, and coworkers to quit.

Health care providers can

  • Ask their patients if they use tobacco; if they do, help them quit.
  • Refer patients interested in quitting to 1-800-QUIT-NOW, www.smokefree.gov, or other resources.
  • Advise all patients to make their homes and vehicles 100% smoke-free.
  • Advise nonsmokers to avoid secondhand smoke exposure.

Employers can

  • Establish a policy banning the use of any tobacco product indoors or outdoors on company property by anyone at any time.
  • Provide all employees and their dependents with health insurance that covers support for quitting with little or no co-payment.

Retailers can

  • Learn the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions on youth access to tobacco products and tobacco marketing to youth, and closely follow them.
  • Never sell any tobacco product to customers younger than 18 years of age (or 19 in states with a higher minimum age requirement).
  • Check the photo ID of any customer trying to buy tobacco products who appears to be 26 years of age or younger.

 

This article was compiled at the request of Dee Jensen, who has first-hand knowledge of the effects of second-hand smoke.

 

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