Public Health Group: Smoking Carveout for Casinos Threatens Health, Creates Uneven Playing Field for NC Small Businesses – and Gives Big Tobacco Exactly What They Want
Raleigh, NC— Advocates for smokefree casinos are urging North Carolina lawmakers to ensure that any commercial casinos that open in the state are smokefree indoors to protect the health of workers and guests. As the legislature considers legislation to legalize commercial casinos in the state, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) sent a letter to Senate President Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore urging them to write into the legislation language ensuring casinos are smokefree indoors.
“North Carolina law has prohibited indoor smoking in nearly every establishment for almost 14 years, with few exceptions. As you consider legislation to legalize commercial casinos in North Carolina, we strongly urge you to ensure casinos in the state do not allow indoor smoking,” wrote Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of ANR. “A smokefree indoor air policy is critical to protect the health of everyone who will spend time in these casinos – especially employees. In addition to threatening North Carolinians’ health, inserting a special carveout for casinos now would create an uneven playing field for small businesses across North Carolina, contradict growing efforts in states across the country to close the casino smoking loophole created a generation ago, and give Big Tobacco exactly what they want.”
Hallett notes that the health impacts of secondhand smoke are well-established, especially since the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report affirming the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure kills nearly 500,000 Americans every year. At the same time, the number of adults who smoke has declined to about 11%.
“Old arguments in favor of keeping indoor smoking are outdated. Las Vegas-based researchers C3 Gaming analyzed revenue performance in several competitive casino markets and found smokefree casinos generated more revenue,” wrote Hallett. “‘Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue,’ reads the C3 report. ‘In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.’”
The letter also highlights the success of Tribal casinos in the state that are operating smokefree indoors and expert analysis that finds smokefree casinos perform better than their competitors that still allow indoor smoking.
“We often hear that commercial casinos must allow smoking in order to compete with some nearby Tribal casinos that permit indoor smoking,” wrote Hallett. “For many reasons, that argument falls flat, but perhaps most noteworthy is that Harrah’s Cherokee and Valley River casinos already operate smokefree indoors. Casinos owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have been operating smokefree with great success, posting record profits since ending indoor smoking in 2021.”
Hallett also pointed out that indoor smoking policies spoiled the much-anticipated grand opening of Virginia’s first commercial casino earlier this year, causing a wave of negative reviews from guests and inspiring casino workers to join the fight to end smoking inside casinos.
“In neighboring Virginia, the excitement for the opening of a new casino was overshadowed by outrage from both customers and workers who did not realize that smoking would be allowed indoors,” wrote Hallett. “Guests were quoted in local news saying, ‘to subject everybody that goes into their casino to cigarette smoking, I think it’s backwards, archaic, disgusting, and I won’t ever come here again’ and ‘I finally quit and I’m not going to be putting myself into a position where I’m going to get second-hand smoke. This is just not OK.’ Only months after the casino’s grand opening, with smoking still allowed indoors, casino workers formed a local chapter of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, a national worker-led movement to end smoking in casinos.”
The letter urged lawmakers to ensure that their state is providing a healthy, modern experience that guests come to expect in every other entertainment venue.
“You have the opportunity today to create a modern commercial casino industry in North Carolina that learns from other states’ past mistakes,” wrote Hallett. “We urge you to seize this chance to set up future casinos for success by reaching a wider customer base and to protect the health of all North Carolinians.”
ABOUT AMERICANS FOR NONSMOKERS’ RIGHTS
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) is a member-supported, non-profit advocacy group that has been working for over 45 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 successfully protected 61% 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. For more information, please visit https://nonsmokersrights.org and https://smokefreecasinos.org.
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