The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke in Bingo Halls and Casinos

Millions of Americans visit casinos and bingo halls every year to relieve stress and try their luck playing various games. In many casinos and bingo halls there is a little noticed threat lurking inside. It’s not gambling addiction or the risk of losing a small fortune; the threat is secondhand smoke. Several states have passed smoking bans but some have carved out exemptions for casinos, bars and taverns. According to a study done by researchers at Stanford and Tufts University every year 50 million nonsmoking casino patrons and 400,000 workers at nonsmoking casinos, such as, gamble with their health breathing secondhand smoke.

According to the study less than two hours of exposure to secondhand smoke in half of the casinos surveyed is enough to significantly impair the heart’s ability to pump blood placing players and casino workers at risk of developing heard disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US and is also a major cause of disabilities associated with smoking. Treatment for these diseases cost the nation an estimated $151.6 billion in 2007. About 8% of the population 45 to 64 years old and 20% of those 65 and older suffer from heart disease. Seniors are at greater risk from secondhand smoke. The two age groups also have higher gambling rates than those under 45.

The researchers measured the pollution levels in 66 smoky casinos in five states, and three smoke free casinos. They compared the air in the casinos to the pollution outdoors. An additional 30 casinos were tested in several states. The researchers had to conduct their measurements covertly and entered casinos wearing mall monitoring devices inside their purses or jackets. The study focused on two types of cancer causing pollution: fine particular matter and a group of chemicals called particulate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The researchers found that air cleaning and ventilation do not control smoke pollution.

Lynn Hildemann, a professor of environmental engineering and science at Stanford, stated “The only effective control for secondhand smoke was reducing the number of smokers. The fewer smokers, the less polluted the air. If you switch to a nonsmoking casino, your exposure to harmful fine particulate matter levels indoors will be reduced by 90 percent, and your exposure to carcinogenic PPAH levels will decrease by 80 percent.” Three smoke free casinos had pollution levels as low as outdoors. The researchers said that prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke poses a grave health risk for casino workers.

Smoking bans remain controversial in the gaming industry. When the UK imposed a national smoking ban in 2007 several bingo halls closed and casinos experienced greatly reduced revenues. Many players switched to online bingo to avoid the smoking ban. Since all research has shown the damage caused by secondhand smoke more smoking bans can be expected in the future.

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