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Public health group advocates for smoke-free casinos outlined in draft bill that would bring gambling to Rockingham

News & Record - 8/26/2023

Aug. 26—RALEIGH — 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.

The plea comes as legislators, led by Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican representing Rockingham County, debate a draft bill designed to establish three non-tribal casinos in Rockingham, Nash and Anson counties.

It is unclear whether the draft bill will be made part of the state budget or emerge as a standalone bill, according to state lawmakers.

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) recently sent a letter to Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, urging them to write language in the legislation to ensure such casinos are smoke-free indoors.

"North Carolina law has prohibited indoor smoking in nearly every establishment for almost 14 years, with few exceptions," Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of ANR, wrote in the letter.

"A smoke-free indoor air policy is critical to protect the health of everyone who will spend time in these casinos — especially employees," Hallett wrote.

"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 noted that the health impacts of secondhand smoke are well-established, especially since the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General's landmark report affirming its harmful effects.

Tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure kills nearly 500,000 Americans every year, according to public health research. 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"Old arguments in favor of keeping indoor smoking are outdated.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 highlighted the success of tribal casinos, such as the Cherokee Harrah's operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, which operates smoke-free indoors since 2021.

Expert analysis finds smoke-free casinos perform better than their competitors that still allow indoor smoking, studies show, Hallett wrote.

"We often hear that commercial casinos must allow smoking in order to compete with some nearby tribal casinos that permit indoor smoking," wrote Hallett.

Hallett also pointed out that indoor smoking policies spoiled the much-anticipated grand opening of Virginia's first commercial casino earlier this year in Danville, 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.

Just months after the Ceasar's Danville temporary casino opened with smoking allowed indoors, casino workers formed a local chapter of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, a national worker-led movement to end smoking in casinos, according to Hallett.

Hallett's letter further 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."

What is ANR?

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) is a member-supported, non-profit advocacy group that has been working for over 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 smoke-free workplace, restaurant, and bar laws. ANR aims to close gaps in smoke-free protections for workers in all workplaces, including bars, music venues, casinos, and hotels.

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