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Anti-smoking advocate: Oklahoma tribes should follow SouthWind Casino's lead

BY CYNTHIA HALLETT Published: August 18, 2013

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights has recognized SouthWind Casino Kaw City in Oklahoma for going smokefree. The honor extends to the Kaw Nation and Kaw Enterprise Authority for their leadership in supporting this smoke-free property.

While this is something to celebrate, it's hard to escape the fact that of the more than 120 tribal casinos in Oklahoma, SouthWind Casino Kaw City is the only one that's completely smokefree.

The health risks of this sad reality were made evident in a groundbreaking study published in the scientific journal Circulation, which found that when Colorado made its casinos smokefree in 2008, ambulance calls originating from casinos dropped by nearly 20 percent. This makes a compelling case for clearing the air in the rest of Oklahoma's smoke-filled casinos — and everywhere else workers are exposed to on-the-job secondhand smoke.

The issue is pressing because nearly 90 percent of casino workers nationwide, including those who work at tribal casinos in Oklahoma, are exposed to secondhand smoke in their workplaces. It's encouraging that some tribes across the U.S. have voluntarily made some of their casinos smokefree and that 20 states include state-regulated commercial casinos in smoke-free workplace laws. This study should serve as a wake-up call to Oklahoma's tribal leaders and casino managers to adopt smoke-free protections that will benefit their workers and customers.

The cost savings alone are considerable. According to the Government Accountability Office, ambulance costs in 2010 ranged from $224 to $2,204 per transport nationwide. If Oklahoma's smoke-filled casinos followed Colorado's lead, the case for making all casinos smokefree would become abundantly clear in sheer economic terms.

But as always with tobacco and smoking, the real issue is protecting human health, not just dollars saved. The results of this study are similar to the findings of more than 50 previous studies that discovered a roughly 20 percent reduction in cardiac-related and other health-related hospital admissions (including heart attack and stroke) following the implementation of smoke-free laws. Additional scientific research has demonstrated that exposure to secondhand smoke for as little as 30 minutes causes immediate effects on blood and blood vessels that raise the risk of an immediate heart attack.

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