Nevada employers worst in nation in smoke-free policies |

Nevada employers worst in nation in smoke-free policies

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Dr. Karen Arcotta winces when she sees cigarette smoke wafting into the air above slot machines in supermarkets or from open doorways of smoking lounges at McCarran International Airport.

”It’s pitiful,” said Arcotta, who heads the cardiology department at University Medical Center. ”You can’t get away from secondhand smoke here if you try.”

Nevada employers are worst in the nation when it comes to protecting employees from secondhand tobacco smoke, a study by the National Cancer Institute reports.

The study’s findings came as no surprise to Arcotta, who said Nevada has the highest rate of adult smokers in the United States and the highest rates of asthma and deaths from smoking-related diseases. An estimated 3,000 nonsmokers nationwide die each year from illnesses attributed to secondhand smoke.

Arcotta said she has patients with lung cancer who never smoked a single cigarette but were exposed to the secondhand smoke at home or work.

The study, published Friday in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, shows 48.7 percent of Nevada’s workplaces have smoke-free policies. That’s compared with the national average of 68.6 percent.

That about 25 percent of Clark County’s workers are employed by casinos and hotels played a part in the findings, said David Burns, a University of California, San Diego professor and one of the study’s authors. People who enjoy gambling usually enjoy other risk-taking activities, including smoking, Burns said.

Things could change as more people move to Nevada from states with tougher anti-tobacco regulations, Burns said.

”Minimizing exposure to secondhand smoke is becoming the norm in other states, and people moving to Nevada will expect the same protections,” Burns said.

Nonsmoking casino employees in Nevada filed a class-action lawsuit against several tobacco companies seeking money for medical monitoring, but the case was rejected by a federal judge in July.

The judge ruled there were too many mitigating factors, such as the health of each individual when they began work, to group the cases in a class-action lawsuit. The judge’s ruling is being appealed, said Charles LoBello of Las Vegas, one of the attorneys representing the casino workers.

Tony Badillo, a retired blackjack dealer and one of the complainants in the suit, said he developed asthma from years of exposure to tobacco smoke. Badillo is president of the International Union of Gaming Employees, which has worked to unionize casino dealers in Las Vegas.

”There has to be rooms for customers and dealers who don’t want the smoke,” said Badillo, who worked at the Sands hotel-casino for 42 years. ”It’s not enough to set aside an area. Smoke doesn’t understand those kinds of boundaries.”

The poker rooms at the Bellagio and the Mirage went smoke-free in June at the request of guests, said Wendie Mosca, spokeswoman for MGM Mirage. The keno area adjacent to the Mirage poker room also is now designated as smoke-free.

”The response has been terrific,” Mosca said.

The states just above Nevada in the national ranking were Kentucky, with 55.9 percent of workplaces prohibiting smoking, and North Carolina, a major tobacco-producing state that increased its smoke-free workplaces from 31 percent in 1999 to 61 percent this year.

The states with the largest percentage of smoke-free workplaces were Utah with 83.9 percent; Maryland, 81.2 percent; California, 76.9 percent; Massachusetts, 76.8 percent; and Vermont, 76.6 percent.

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