chips and cards used in a casino

NIOSH Report Recommends Eliminating Tobacco from Vegas Casinos

Investigators found evidence of exposure to a known carcinogen from tobacco smoke in the urine of non-poker dealers who participated in the evaluations.

A new Health Hazard Evaluation from NIOSH gives ammunition to anti-smoking groups because its first recommendation is that tobacco be eliminated at Las Vegas' casinos. The recommendation is based on 2005 on-site evaluations at Bally's, Paris, and Caesars Palace casinos, confidential medical interviews, and a questionnaire, with non-poker (NP) casino dealers compared with a group of casino employees in administrative and engineering jobs. The HHE says 124 NP dealers out of a total working population of 1,188 NP and poker casino dealers participated in the environmental and/or biological assessment.

Establishment owners frequently battle anti-smoking efforts by claiming they will hurt business, and the casinos already are reporting sharply lower revenues in Las Vegas for the first quarter of this year. Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., which owns Bally's Las Vegas and Caesars Palace, said its Las Vegas Region's revenues in the first three months of 2009 were down 20.5 percent, to $686.4 million, from the same period a year earlier, and income from operations was off by 36.4 percent.

Titled "Environmental and Biological Assessment of Environmental Tobacco Smoke Exposure Among Casino Dealers" and written by five NIOSH employees, the HHE says NNAL in the dealers' urine (NNAL is an environmental tobacco smoke biomarker) increased significantly during their eight-hour work shifts, both adjusting for and not adjusting for creatinine clearance. The dealers also reported more respiratory problems than did the non-dealers, but differences in the prevalence between the two groups weren't significant, according to the report. The investigators found secondhand smoke components in the casinos' air, including nicotine, respirable dust, benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde.

The authors said they were surprised common polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzo-a-pyrene, anthracene, or pyrene, weren't found in the workers' personal breathing zones or in area air samples, because they have been found in previous studies of secondhand smoke in homes and restaurants.

"We recommend eliminating tobacco from the casinos and implementing a smoking cessation program," the authors wrote. "The casinos should also eliminate smoking near building entrances and air intakes to protect employees from involuntary exposure to ETS. A physician should evaluate employees with respiratory symptoms, especially symptoms related to asthma that are associated with workplace exposures."

If the casinos' ventilation systems are modified, the modifications should adhere to current ASHRAE guidelines, they added.

A group named Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights hailed the report. "Casino workers deserve the same rights as other workers, including the right to a healthy, safe workplace, free from toxic secondhand smoke. After the release of this report, we hope to see casino workers protected by strong smoke-free workplace laws throughout the country," Executive Director Cynthia Hallett said, adding that Nevada's current workplace law does not cover the gaming areas of casinos and state legislators are considering rolling back the smoke-free workplace law further. "If anything, these results should convince Nevada lawmakers to strengthen their state law to include the gaming floors of casinos, not roll it back to expose more workers to toxic secondhand smoke," she said Wednesday.

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