Fall 2012

Gambling With Their Health

In states that allow smoking in casinos, researchers raise concerns about the health of nonsmoking patrons

Entering a casino may mean taking a chance on more than the cards you play. Many people don’t realize that some states allow smoking in casinos, and health researchers are raising concerns about the potential damage secondhand smoke may pose for otherwise-healthy patrons and casino employees.

Casinos are bucking recent trends. “Smoke-free environments are now normal coast to coast,” Bronson Frick, speaking on behalf of an advocacy group called Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, told the Kansas City Star. In contrast, smoke-free casinos are rare in the U.S., where 88 percent of commercial casinos and nearly 100 percent of tribal casinos (not subject to state regulation) allow smoking.

Researchers who collected air-quality data inside casinos in the Kansas City area recently determined that all had pollution levels varying from unhealthy for people with lung or heart disease to unhealthy for all people. Only one casino’s nonsmoking area had good air quality. When researchers at Stanford and Tufts combined such data from 66 casinos across the country, they found that at half the venues, inhaling secondhand smoke for even two hours was enough to impair the heart’s ability to pump blood. In contrast, the three smoke-free casinos surveyed had pollution levels as low as the outdoors.

Casino workers are among those at greatest risk. Levels of cotinine, a biomarker of tobacco that shows up in human tissue, were markedly higher in nonsmoking casino dealers tested than among the nonsmoking general population, even rising between the beginning and end of a work shift, James Repace, a biophysicist and visiting assistant clinical professor at Tufts Medical School, pointed out. “This is clearly due to secondhand smoke in the casino,” he told the Stanford University News.

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