|By Rusty Marks, The Charleston Gazette,
W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 22, 2009--WASHINGTON -- A study released this month in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that separate smoking and nonsmoking sections in casinos don't work, and concludes that casinos should not be allowed exemptions from smoking bans.
James Repace, a biophysicist who has written articles for scientific journals and other publications, studied the effects of smoking on customers and employees in five Pennsylvania casinos. The results were published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, a peer-reviewed journal based in Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania recently relaxed its indoor-smoking exemption for casinos to allow smoking areas to comprise as much as half the floor space in casinos. Repace studied concentrations of smoke in the nonsmoking sections of the casinos and tested the urine of nonsmokers who had been in the casinos.
On Tuesday, members of Nitro City Council voted to allow Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center to set up a separate smoking section in the casino, which is inside city limits.
Tri-State owners asked for the exemption to get around Kanawha County's clean indoor-air regulation, which bans smoking in restaurants, bars and gambling establishments. Owners Hartman & Tyner Inc. believe the smoking ban is responsible for $9 million of a $15 million loss at Tri-State since the ban went into effect in July 2008.
Hartman & Tyner vice president Dan Adkins wants to allow smoking on the first floor of Tri-State Racetrack, with the second and third floors smoke-free.
But Repace concluded that separate smoking and non-smoking sections in casinos don't work. In Pennsylvania, he found that concentrations of harmful particles from cigarette smoke were between four and six times higher than the outside air in the nonsmoking sections of the casinos, and higher still in the smoking sections. Repace also found high concentrations of chemicals from cigarette smoke in the urine of nonsmokers even after short periods of time in the casinos.
Repace concluded that allowing smoking in casinos is especially hazardous to employees who work there.
In 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona concluded that no level of secondhand smoke is safe, and that even the most sophisticated ventilation systems cannot remove the harmful chemicals from cigarette smoke.
Twenty-seven states have laws requiring at least some of their casinos to be 100 percent smoke-free. Fifteen of those states, including neighboring Ohio and Maryland, require all casinos to be completely smoke-free, according to information compiled by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.
Last year, the city council of Atlantic City, N.J., voted to make Atlantic City's casinos smoke-free. City officials have since postponed the total smoking ban for a year under pressure from the casino industry.
Atlantic City currently allows smoking in up to 25 percent of a casino's floor space.
Adkins said non-smokers at Tri-State will be safe because the smoking and nonsmoking areas will be physically separated. Although some of the casinos Repace studied had nonsmoking areas with separate ventilation systems, others simply had part of the floor reserved for smokers and part for nonsmokers.
"That study would have no reflection on what we're planning at Tri-State," Adkins said. "I am proposing to have two physically separate facilities, one for smoking and one for nonsmoking."
Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the only way to protect nonsmoking patrons from secondhand smoke would be to have smoking in a completely separate building. Even with designated smoking and nonsmoking floors, Gupta said, secondhand smoke would still travel between the floors through elevators, stairwells and doorways.
Adkins said he was willing to install monitors to make sure nonsmoking parts of the casino were safe. He also said no one would be forced to go into the smoking section of the racetrack, including employees.
"Any employee or patron who chooses to go into or work in the smoking facility will be there by their own choice," Adkins said. "No one will be forced to work there."
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.
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