April 27, 2023
“We’re Being Exposed to Toxic Cancerous Causing Chemicals in Exchange for a Paycheck”
Providence, RI– Smokefree casino advocates and casino workers testified this week before the Rhode Island House Committee on Finance during a hearing on legislation to close the casino smoking loophole. H5237, introduced earlier this year, would remove the exemption for casinos and gaming facilities from the state’s smokefree workplace law.
“Only 11% of the US population are current smokers, meaning casinos are playing to a very small and dwindling audience,” said Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “If every other worker in Rhode Island can have a smokefree protection, shouldn’t our casino workers as well? There’s no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. The only solution is to protect workers and guests by going 100% smokefree.”
“I’ve been in the business for 30 years and I never realized the toll that secondhand smoke had on my body,” said Vanessa Baker, a table games supervisor at Bally’s Tiverton and member of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) Rhode Island. “If I seem upset when I talk, it’s because I’m fighting for my life. I’m personally dealing with the effects of secondhand smoke and I’m currently out of work due to respiratory issues. Since indoor smoking was reinstated last year, every day when we walk into the casino, all of us dealers know that we’re being exposed to toxic cancerous-causing chemicals in exchange for a paycheck, just to support our families.”
Ventilation systems are not the answer, according to the engineers who design such systems and collectively make up the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). “[Ventilation systems] are not effective against secondhand smoke” and “can reduce only odor and discomfort, but cannot eliminate exposure,” they wrote in a letter to the committee. “There is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air-cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of [environmental tobacco smoke] to an acceptable level.
H5237 was introduced with ten original sponsors; Rep. Teresa Tanzi; Rep. Michelle McGaw; Rep. Leonela Felix; Rep. Raymond Hull; Rep. Edith Ajello; Rep. Susan Donovan; Rep. Rebecca Kislak; Rep. David Morales; Rep. June Speakman; and Rep. Lauren Carson.
Last year, casino workers in Rhode Island launched a local CEASE chapter to call on lawmakers to protect their health and close the casino smoking loophole.
A report by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming found that casinos without indoor smoking outperform their smoking counterparts. “Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue. In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”
More and more casinos nationwide are going smokefree, including Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip. At least 160 sovereign Tribal gaming venues have implemented 100% smokefree policies during COVID-19, 23 states require commercial casinos to be smokefree indoors, and more than 1,000 gaming properties do not permit smoking indoors.
ABOUT AMERICANS FOR NONSMOKERS’ RIGHTS
ANR Foundation’s sister organization, Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights (ANR) is a member-supported, non-profit advocacy group that has been working for 47 years, since 1976, to protect everyone’s right to breathe nontoxic air in workplaces and public places, from offices and airplanes to restaurants, bars, and casinos. ANR has continuously shined a light on the tobacco industry’s interference with sound and life-saving public health measures and has successfully protected 66.8% of the population with local or statewide smokefree workplace, restaurant, and bar laws. ANR aims to close gaps in smokefree protections for workers in all workplaces, including bars, music venues, casinos, and hotels.