Smoke-free casinos? Anti-tobacco group sees need, opportunity with COVID-19

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When Park MGM takes the bold step of going smoke-free when they reopen on Sept. 30, people will be watching.

Now an anti-smoking group is challenging others casinos to follow.

The Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition (NTPC) is asking all Nevada casinos to implement new and stronger policies to be completely smoke-free.

While some previous experiments have failed, advocates say the time is right to try it again because of COVID-19. NTPC says 15.7% of Nevadans are smokers — down from 30.3% just 20 years ago.

Health problems associated with smoking — particularly heart disease — are well known. But smoking might pose additional problems with the virus.

“Evidence suggests those that smoke are at an increased risk of having complications from the COVID-19 virus,” according to an NTPC statement. “Those exposed to secondhand smoke may face similar risks. Smoke free gaming establishments will reduce the risk of spreading the virus from individuals who will have to remove their face covering/mask to utilize their smoking device. Smoke free policies strengthen the prevention guidance offered by local and national experts and provide safe and welcoming environments for employees and patrons.”

In Southern Nevada, 692 of the 6125 people hospitalized for COVID-19 suffered from chronic heart desease, according to Wednesday data from the Southern Nevada Health District.

And of the 1,360 deaths from COVID-19, SNHD says more than half — 692 — had chronic heart disease.

Park MGM and NoMad, the hotel within the Park MGM resort, will be completely smoke free. Other resorts are already bound by laws that prohibit smoking in casino areas like public walkways, hallways and corridors. But smoking is still allowed on the gaming floor.

NTPC aims to change that.

“While our smoking rates have improved greatly, we are still failing to protect employees and guests from secondhand smoke exposure, particularly workplaces like casinos and bars because the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act exempts these locations,” a coalition statement says.

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A June, 2019 protest.

NTPC says people exposed to secondhand smoke at work have a 25–30% increased risk of developing heart disease — the No. 1 killer of Nevadans.

“We rank 7th highest in the nation for heart disease. Employees are our businesses’ most valuable resource and 83.9% of Nevada casino workers report exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace. Nevada and our businesses can do better for these employees by making 100% of indoor workplaces smoke free,” NTPC says.

Casinos in some other states, including Colorado, already operate smoke-free.

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