With statistics that show tobacco smoking is losing popularity among the younger generations, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) is lobbying to create a healthier, smoke-free environment for the growing majority.
ANR is the leading national lobbying organization, dedicated to nonsmokers’ rights, taking on the tobacco industry at all levels of government, protecting nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke and preventing tobacco addiction among youth. According to their website, as of October 1, 2016, there are 4,579 municipalities with laws in effect that restrict where smoking is allowed. There are 1,320 municipalities; and 41 states, along with the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that have a 100 percent smoke-free provision in effect in non-hospitality workplaces, restaurants and bars.
Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of ANR, took some time to talk with Casino Journal Editor Paul Doocey about the lobbying group’s goals within the casino industry and the progress it has made in supporting nonsmoking work environments for gaming employees. Below are some excerpts from this conversation:
Can you give a short overview of ANR …when was the organization formed and what are some of its goals?
Hallett: Americans for Nonsmokers rights is a national public health advocacy organization and we are based in Berkley, Calif. We were established in 1976 so we are celebrating our 40th anniversary this year.
Our goals are to ensure that everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air. In our humble beginnings back in the 1970s, the goal was, at a minimum, to be able to designate your desk as a smoke-free space. Because if you remember back in the 1970s, we didn’t have any science about the health effects of second-hand smoke on the nonsmoker; it was more, if you will, just sort of common sense that people didn’t feel good… they knew they got headaches, or they knew they were coughing. So initially, our goal as an organization was to make sure that an individual could say to their boss, “you really can’t smoke at my desk.”
Things progressed over time and we started working on entire workplaces, sections of restaurants and, progressively, now to 100 percent smoke-free spaces and work places. Over time, as businesses have changed, [we have] expanded that definition of what a work place is, which is how we started working in casinos.
What do you hope to accomplish by bringing your organization to casinos? What are your goals in the gaming industry when it comes to nonsmoker’s rights?
Hallett: First of all, if I do my job right, I work myself out of a job. Our goal is to make sure that every worker can work in a smoke-free indoor workplace, and we never really thought about making casinos smoke free, possibly for the same reason that the casinos are saying they can’t go smoke free. We didn’t think that there were that many casinos, and that image of smoking and gambling and all of the other vices going together… it just didn’t seem like it was a priority for us. Our engagement in the casino industry began with employees. They called us back in 2004 and said, “I’m being exposed to second-hand smoke in my workplace, can you help me?” It was a surprise because we had never really thought about it.
There are a large number of employees in casinos and we have obviously seen an explosion of casinos in many other states; no doubt both tribal and commercial casinos have been an economic boom for many communities. But for me as a public health advocate, that means we have more workers potentially exposed to second-hand smoke, a known carcinogen, in their workplace.
How do you go about engaging the industry? What are the steps to making your goal of creating more nonsmoking casinos a reality?
Hallett: There are a couple of avenues or ways to make it a reality. First of all, we, as an organization, work from the grass roots up. We never come in and just try to have a law passed from the state level down. We are a membership-based organization, so when we go into a locality, we first meet with our members, meet with their friends, meet with other partners and talk about what it is about the community that makes it unique and how it might work in that community to educate the public and policy makers about the need to make it smoke free.
Similarly, with the casino industry, we started going to regional gaming meetings and big meetings like the Global Gaming Expo to gain an understanding about the industry itself and to hear what some of the concerns were. We got to know the industry, and we started speaking-up… asking questions from the audience about the vast majority of the population that didn’t smoke that could potentially fill casinos. For us, nonsmoking has always been a worker health and safety issue, but there are a number of potential casino consumers who won’t go to a smoke-filled casino for personal and health reasons…. They’re ex-smokers, suffer from cardiac or asthma issues, etc. So casino operators are excluding a large population of customers from coming through the doors so long as they allow smoking.
What progress have you made in the casino industry? How close is ANR to accomplishing its gaming goals?
Hallett: Since our start in 1998, we have 21 states or territories that now include commercial casinos in their statewide smoke-free workplace law; the city of New Orleans includes their casinos and gaming in its local smoke-free law. There are over 800 smoke-free gaming facilities across the United States, and internationally there are several countries that have adopted smoke-free policies and rules for their countries that have included casinos. This really is a global movement towards smoke free that includes casinos.
That is the good news… the bad news, for me and for those casino workers, is that approximately 90 percent of casino workers are not protected by a local or state law because the big gaming states are not yet smoke free.
How do you address people who say there is a correlation between smoking and gaming, and that for some reason the best gamblers are almost always smokers?
Hallett: I have two responses to that. One is that there have been a number of studies, done by public health geeks like myself and the gaming industry, which show four out of five gamblers do not smoke. So one argument is there may be potential gamblers out there who are not coming to casinos because they tend to be smoke-filled environments.
What is also interesting is that for the past three years, the industry has been discussing how to get more Millennials interested in the casino experience. If, in fact, Millennials are going to be the savior group, then operators really need to play up to that desire for a smoke-free environment because they are health conscious and typically don’t smoke. They are also socially conscious, so workers getting sick as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke will not sit well with them.
To hear more from this podcast, go to www.casinojournal.com where you can listen to the in-depth discussion on successes from operations that have converted to nonsmoking facilities, studies and statistics, as well as Hallett’s views on air purification systems and e-cigarettes.
For more facts about smoke free environments, state by state laws, and the benefits to worker health safety, visit ANR’s website http://no-smoke.org/.