Nevada Leads Nation in Secondhand Smoke Exposure
Reno Gazette Journal
By Steve Timko
More than two-thirds of adult Nevadans are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke, the highest rate in the nation, according to a federal study.
In fact, the No. 2 state for secondhand smoke was almost 10 percentage points behind Nevada.
This is bad news for Nevada, said John Packham, director of Health Policy Research at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.
“There is no debate on secondhand smoke as a risk factor,” Packham said, adding there have been several U.S. Surgeon General’s Office reports detailing the risks. “The science on secondhand smoke is settled. It’s a risk factor on par with smoking itself.”
According to the 2009-10 National Adult Tobacco Survey from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 67.4 percent of adult Nevadans surveyed were exposed to secondhand smoke in the previous seven days. Michigan was second at 58.8 percent.
The state with the least secondhand smoke exposure is Montana at 35.7 percent. Secondhand smoke puts people at higher risk for heart attacks, stroke and asthma, Packham said. He thinks the problem in Nevada stems from smoke in the workplace, specifically casinos. The Nevada Resort Association did not respond to a request to comment on behalf of the gaming industry.
Cigarette maker Philip Morris USA said in a request for comment on secondhand smoke that the public should follow the recommendation of public health officials.
“Particular care should be exercised where children are concerned, and adults should avoid smoking cigarettes around them,” Philip Morris says in a statement on secondhand smoke on the company website.
“We also believe that the conclusions of public health officials concerning environmental tobacco smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate cigarette smoking in public places,” the statement continues. “We also believe that where cigarette smoking is permitted, the government should require the posting of warning notices that communicate public health officials’ conclusions that secondhand smoke causes disease in nonsmokers.”
Smokers in Washoe County
As evidence to the benefits of banning smoking in public places, Packham cited a study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
It focused on Gilpin County, Colo., which has 26 casinos. When Coloradans banned smoking in public places in 2006, ambulance calls to those places dropped 22.8 percent.
Casinos were exempt from the ban, and ambulance calls remained about the same, Packham said.
After smoking was banned at casinos in 2008, ambulance calls to casinos dropped by 19.1 percent, while calls to other public places remained the same.
“It’s a pretty important study for a state like Nevada,” Packham said.
Nevada voters approved the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act in 2006. Smoking is now prohibited in all indoor spaces in Nevada, the Washoe District Health Department notes, except “areas of casinos that prohibit children; stand-alone bars, taverns and saloons that do not serve food; strip clubs and brothels; retail tobacco stores; private residences not used for child care or health care; and hotel and motel rooms if allowed by the operator.”
Nationally, about 21.2 percent of adults smoke, according to Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data in the state highlights report. Nevada is only slightly higher at 22.9 percent, the 16th highest percentage among states.
Nevada’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health put out a report on tobacco use by county in 2011 and 2012. That report estimated 19.8 percent of Washoe County adults were smokers. The lowest smoking rate in Nevada was in Storey County, where 7.4 percent of adults smoked. The highest was in Pershing County, where four out of 10 adults smoked in 2011-12. Another state report, Healthy People Nevada, summarized health issues in Pershing County across a variety of factors using data from Nevada Vital Statistics Records.
One topic was the number of pregnant women abstaining from tobacco in Pershing County from 2000 to 2008. Pershing County’s best year was 2002, when almost as many women did not use tobacco as Nevada as a whole. The worst year was 2005, when more than one in three pregnant Pershing County women used tobacco.
Packham warned that the sample sizes can be small in rural counties, so the data in public reports might not be reliable. The report from Nevada’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health, however, did not list results for Esmeralda and Eureka counties because the sample was so small. In the 2010 U.S. Census, Esmeralda County had a population of 783, Eureka County had a population of 1.987 and Pershing County had a population of 6,753.
“What’s going on in sparsely populated areas might not be indicative of anything,” Packham said. However, there could be some demographic factors that explain Pershing County’s high smoking rate, Packham said. “In rural populations, those populations tend to be older,” Packham said. “They tend to be a little bit poorer. And maybe even education might be a factor there.” People with more education tend to smoke less, he said.