Nevada has a tradition of individual freedom and a libertarian streak against government regulation. But I think we have reached the point where casinos should begin offering their customers and employees a smoke free environment. Certainly, companies like MGM-Mirage and Harrah’s with multiple properties on the Strip can easily experiment with a smoke free resort (or limited to smoking lounges). Obviously for customers the damage of second hand smoke is less risky than it is for employees. And, I think for that reason Nevada resorts need to change. And, unlike most businesses hit by new regulation, Nevada resorts have this moment in time to create their own solution that satisfies both safety concerns and preserves people’s ability to do things they enjoy, including smoking, while in Las Vegas. Otherwise, the future is becoming increasingly clear: the law and government will intervene as has happened in most other states.
Penn & Teller on their cable show did an episode in the second season that was skeptical of the risks of second hand smoke. But since that episode was made, there has been more science on the subject including this study of casino workers, And, in the clip above you can hear Penn Jillette concede that there are probably risks from second hand smoke. He is careful not to be definitive in how he concedes that point. Others are not so careful. In this article a woman recounts how a doctor told her that her lung cancer was likely caused by her work in a casino. The reporter simply repeats the anonymous doctor’s diagnosis second hand (like the smoke). Apparently, this was all common sense to everyone involved in the story. But forget how much we do and don’t know about second hand smoke, do we know enough about cancer to definitively pinpoint why one person has developed the disease? Wouldn’t everyone else who works the same number of years at the same job then have the same cancer?
I guess what I am saying is that knowledge accrues slowly and the public debate on science always seems to simplify things to the detriment of actual insight. People who want action are quick to not only eliminate ambiguity but challenge the motives of those who mention that there is a lack of clear evidence. Yet, those questions can be answered. In the above clip Jillette agrees that recent studies have altered the evidence since he made the segment. Such studies are made, because of the questions raised by skeptics and we are all better off for that. But when it comes to government regulation, demagoguery is the weapon of choice (as documented in the rest of Penn & Teller’s second hand smoke segment from “Bullshit”).
But I want to step aside from the contentious issue of government regulation. There is not a resort company in this city that does not claim that their employees’ health is a paramount concern. So, given the amount of recent evidence, let’s ask those companies why they continue to risk allowing smoking given that it is very likely bad for both non-smoking customers and employees?
Meanwhile, I am trying to reach experts to find out if there have been any studies on the impact of the air filtration systems used to eliminate second hand smoke. You certainly notice the difference in smell between old casinos and places like Aria and Wynn. In fact, I stood next to a guy smoking a cigar at Aria and did not smell the cigar. It seemed a miracle. On the other hand, does that make a difference in terms of carcinogens? I will update you when I get answers.
Obviously, this is not a good time to experiment with such a huge transformation of the Las Vegas experience. And, this would be a significant change even with a moderate approach that includes smoking lounges and allows smoking hotel rooms. But while the information science offers us may at best be partial, there is also no guarantee that the increase of knowledge will reach an actionable point at a convenient time. This is not a convenient time, economically.
No smoking in Las Vegas resorts would destroy one of the few things that make Las Vegas different from the rest of the country. And, this would likely have an impact on our economy. And, yet, in the big picture this ban is going to happen over time anyway. There have already been lawsuits by casino front-line employees, and there will likely be more. There is also the view of customers toward indoor smoking. That is changing. Increasingly guests tell me they do not want to go anyplace smokey. And, these days I am often asked which casinos are least smoke filled. When Aria opened, the only protesters were an anti-smoking group.
In the next few years, I suspect, smoking will vanish from casinos. Right now resorts can either take the initiative on this issue or wait for the laws and lawsuits to come and force their action.
Resort companies should take this moment to look carefully at the science and devise a response that allows them to continue to best serve their customers who smoke while also offering a way to keep their employees and customers free from unwanted second hand smoke. To motivate themselves Vegas resorts need only look at Nevada’s ban on smoking in restaurants; the rules were built around the ban, and the enforcement and definition of the ban proved messy for all involved.
Vegas resorts have the opportunity to face this inevitable change on their own terms. They should take this grace period to devise a response more to their long term interest that also works in the long term interests of their customers and employees. It is time to end open smoking on the casino floors in Vegas.