Clean indoor air debate continues in Mesquite
The Spectrum (Desert Valley Times)
By Lucas M Thomas
If you’ve ever walked into a casino in the state of Nevada, the ambiance is unmistakable. Trying to find fresh air is often an exercise in futility.
Former casino workers, residents of Mesquite and health educators from Southern Nevada gathered Thursday night at the Holiday Inn Express to discuss this issue in a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Mesquite Citizens for Clean Indoor Air.
The discussion centered around what those gathered identify as a public health crisis in the Silver State. Recently, the state has been criticized by the American Lung Association for, among other things, failing to pass any laws that would ensure a smoke-free workplace.
“Casinos do not care if their employees live or die,” said John McDonnell, one of the featured speakers and a former bar owner in Las Vegas who is working to create an advocacy group called Smoke Free Nevada. His sentiment was echoed throughout the meeting by his fellow panel speakers.
Kanie Kastroll, a former dealer at the Wynn in Las Vegas and a plaintiff in a 2009 class action lawsuit against the casino, went a step further. “They’re killing not only their employees, but their customers as well,” Kastroll said during her speech.
The frustration stems from exemptions in Nevada’s Clean Indoor Air Act, passed in 2006, that still allows for some bars, nightclubs and casinos to allow smoking. This exemption leaves employees and patrons who do not smoke vulnerable to the health risks of secondhand smoke, most notably cancer.
Lisa Bounanno is one of those people.
Buonanno, a cancer survivor, was a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas for 17 years, a job she loved and one which allowed her to support her family. Despite eating healthy, remaining active and never smoking in her life, Buonanno was diagnosed with lung cancer after spending nearly two decades working in a casino. Now cancer free for nearly five years, she shares her story, which she points out is just one of many like hers, in hopes that it can serve as a catalyst for change.
“We’ll keep fighting until everyone is in a safe work environment,” Buonanno said.
Standing in the way is the clout of the casino industry in the state, according to Christine Picior, the community educator for Mesquite Citizens for Clean Indoor Air. Picior referred to not only the financial power of the casinos, but also the influence they have in their local communities, citing, specifically, the work that the Eureka Casino does for the community in Mesquite. She mentioned it’s difficult to introduce change that might affect the bottom lines of casinos.
Similarly, Kastroll mentioned how powerful casino lobbyists are when discussing what she considered obstacles standing in the way of change.
But, McDonnell contested that none of that should matter because casinos are breaking Nevada state law by allowing secondhand smoke to be present in workplaces. During his speech, he highlighted NRS 618.375 “Duties of Employers,” citing specific parts of the resolution which mandates that employers must:
- Furnish employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or physical harm to his or her employees.
- Furnish and use such safety devices and safeguards, and adopt and use such practices, means, methods, operations and processes as are reasonably adequate to render such employment and places of employment safe and comply with all orders issued by the Division.
- Do every other thing reasonably necessary to protect the lives, safety, and health of employees.
Those who oppose the movement claim that banning smoke inside of casinos will negatively affect revenue because there can’t be an all encompassing, statewide motion. The Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006 strengthened local jurisdictions, giving county and city governments the authority to put into place tobacco regulations that may even be stricter than state law. In theory, then, a casino in one town can unfairly siphon business from another just by banning smoking inside.
Ronnie Skurow, a resident of Mesquite who was able to establish a smoking ban in Eureka’s poker room while he was an employee there, disputes the claim that an indoor smoking ban will adversely affect business, saying the opposite would take place by increasing a player’s “time on device.” This is a phrase that casino managers use to determine how long a person spends at any given slot machine or table game. Skurow made the case that less secondhand smoke — or none at all — would create a more enjoyable experience for customers.
The idea that Mesquite can be the first city in the state to outlaw smoking in casinos was a source of optimism during the discussion.
Nicole Chacon, health educator for Southern Nevada Health District, said that the movement currently “has a lot of momentum” and mentioned that 500 casinos in 20 states across the United States have banned smoking and are still successful businesses.
With the power in the hands of individual cities and counties, Chacon believes that big change can happen in a small town. She stopped short of saying City Council members in Mesquite want to ban smoking in casinos, but said that with the proper amount of community support, a change is not unlikely to take place.
“They want to do what’s right,” Chacon told the Desert Valley Times when asked about city officials’ urgency to make changes.
Others at the meeting were more frank in expressing their optimism for cleaner indoor air.
“I think Mesquite will be the first city in Nevada to do it,” Bounanno said.