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Smoke-free casinos will be reality as masks are required; experts call for permanent ban

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 7:23 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - As Nevada continues to battle the Coronavirus pandemic, questions about residents’ well-being in the future are being pushed into the conversation.

With Governor Steve Sisolak requiring Nevadans to wear face coverings as COVID-19 cases rise, reopened casinos will have no choice but to not allow smoking inside. It’s a move which brings back the conversation about going smoke-free permanently, as many states have.

“A lot of people are focused on smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, " said Kelli Goatley-Seals, a health educator coordinator with the Washoe County Health District. “It may have before just been a small inconvenience. Now it’s a serious concern for people.”

Based on what’s known about the Coronavirus, the act of smoking in itself presents risks to smokers and non-smokers alike. Repeated hand-to-mouth movement, deep inhaling and exhaling as well as possible coughing could potentially spread the virus. Aside from COVID-19, cigarette smoke - both first and second-hand - has long-proven health hazards, which makes for a sudden urgency.

”You don’t start smoking and just get lung cancer,” said Dr. Jennifer Pearson, an assistant professor of health policy at the University of Nevada. “But COVID, it’s right now. It’s right in front of us.”

Dr. Pearson, who previously worked for the Truth Initiative in Washington, D.C., says smoking is becoming increasingly unpopular.

“The rest of the world is moving toward non-smoking,” Dr. Pearson says. “We as Nevada, our businesses don’t want to be left behind.”

In 2006, the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act was passed, prohibiting smoking in virtually all indoor establishments. Casinos, bars and strip clubs were some of the establishments exempt.

“Nevada was the first to have gaming, they’ll probably be the last to go smoke-free,” said Cynthia Hallett, President and CEO of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. “I challenge Nevada to move swiftly.”

State-wide legislation would not be needed to make casinos smoke-free. The Clean Indoor Air Act allows local jurisdictions to create stricter regulations.

Multiple organizations - including the Washoe County Health District, the American Heart and Lung Associations, the Nevada Cancer Coalition and more - have joined to create a “Smoke-Free Truckee Meadows” initiative, aimed at educating Northern Nevada about the risks for smokers and non-smokers alike and changes that could be made.

“We have close to 40 thousand people (in Washoe County) who are working in places that are exempt from the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act,” said Goatley-Seals.

“I think the public is going to demand it,” Hallett said “And for people who do smoke, we’re not saying you can’t smoke. Just do it in ways that don’t harm others and take it outside.”

“We haven’t had a revolution because people can’t smoke in bars that serve food, for example,” said Dr. Pearson. “It’s time.”

Copyright 2020 KOLO. All rights reserved.

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