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While the death and disease caused by COVID-19 has been entirely negative, one unexpected positive trend it has produced is a growing number of casinos no longer allowing smoking indoors when they re-open. According to a list maintained by the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, over 150 tribal and non-tribal casinos have re-opened smokefree, at least temporarily and in some cases permanently, as of July 27, 2020. 

The American Lung Association is excited to see this trend develop, which is an important step forward for protections from secondhand smoke and lung health. Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard, causing or making worse many diseases and conditions, including lung cancer and asthma. It causes over 41,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Casinos and other gaming establishments remain one of the few public places where employees and patrons are likely to encounter secondhand smoke indoors at high levels.  

While secondhand smoke has yet to be established as a known risk factor in developing more severe COVID-19 symptoms, many of the underlying conditions caused or made worse by secondhand smoke are potential risk factors. Allowing smoking indoors can also compromise the use of face masks since someone would need to take the mask off to smoke, which could contribute to further spread of COVID-19 when a smoker exhales. 

It’s important to note that casinos and other gaming establishments were always permitted to prohibit smoking and e-cigarette use in their casinos prior to COVID-19, but most did not take this step voluntarily. Twenty states had prohibited smoking in non-tribal casinos and other gaming establishments resulting in close to 800 smokefree gaming venues prior to COVID-19.

Still, the change of heart on the part of casinos due to COVID-19 is to be commended and encouraged. Here are a few tips for casinos to keep in mind when considering making this change, partially derived from these tips from Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Foundation.

  • Announce that the casino has adopted a smokefree policy for the health and safety of its employees and customers. Social media could be a good outlet to share the news and obtain feedback.
  • Post signage and remove ashtrays in the casino to help indicate that the establishment is smokefree and let people know how to comply. If there is a specific smoking area for customers outside, marking where that is can also be helpful.
  • Discuss the new policy with employees using routine methods such as staff meetings, break room posters or emails and letting any employees who smoke know when and where they may do so.
  • Prepare your employees to implement the policy by training them on the new policy, how to handle customers who are not following the policy and what to say to customers who smoke.
  • Smokefree policies often encourage employees who smoke to consider quitting, so providing support to help employees quit can help create a healthier workforce. The Lung Association offers programs to help your employees quit smoking.

The fact that so many casinos are making this change all at once will hopefully continue to create a snowball effect and show that smokefree casinos make both health and business sense.

Above all, what the Lung Association hopes to see is casinos making their voluntary smokefree policies permanent. States and local communities can also make the change permanent for non-tribal casinos by passing comprehensive laws that prohibit smoking in all public places and workplaces, a goal of the Lung Association for many years. To see if your state has eliminated smoking in all public places and workplaces, please see your state’s grades in the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control report.

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