Could Nevada's ban on indoor smoking be good for the economy and good for your health?
Perhaps. In a new study, University of Nevada, Reno researchers report that hospital bills related to heart problems in the Silver State have decreased by an average of more than $33 million per year since the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect in late 2006.
"The consensus is the smoking ban has had an effect on the health of Nevadans," said Chris Pritsos, the lead UNR researcher and the study's co-author. "There has been a significant reduction in the amount of heart attacks and strokes."
During the ban's first years of 2007-2009, Nevada recorded $14 million a year in savings, on average, in combined Medicare and Medicaid costs for the treatment of two ailments sensitive to secondhand smoke: heart attacks and strokes.
Nevada hospital admissions for stroke sufferers have declined by an average 4 percent or 315 per year and heart attack cases declined by an average of 12 percent or 346 per year since 2007, the study found. The researchers attribute the drop solely to the change in the indoor smoking law.
"The smoking rate didn't change in Nevada and the population went up," Pritsos said. "What else could it be?"
Nevada's experience mirrors findings from other states that have similar laws, Pritsos said.
While a significant change in Nevada, the act wasn't universal.
"Stand-alone taverns and casino floors are exempt, and so it is not just their customers that are exposed to secondhand smoke, but also their employees," Pritsos said.
The falloff in Nevada hospital visits resulted in an average annual savings of $23.5 million for heart attack treatment, and netted an average yearly savings of an additional $9.8 million for stroke care, the UNR study found.
Researchers say those numbers outweigh the loss of business reported by some establishments.
"The partial smoking ban's (health care) savings dwarfs the purported economic losses of taverns," said co-author John Packham, who is also the University of Nevada School of Medicine's director of health policy research.
The Nevada Tavern Owners Association has said that about 100 Southern Nevada taverns have closed as a result of financial losses related to the smoking ban. Others, like Jonathan Fine, owner of the Rockhouse bar and nightclub, changed their business models in response.
Fine did away with food service at the Rockhouse because only taverns that serve food are covered by the law. Although he's a nonsmoker, he opposes the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act because he said it hurts small businesses.
"Small bars have an uphill battle already, against the Station Casinos of the world,'' Fine said. "Then you put another roadblock in their way."
But Pritsos challenged opponents of the law to come up with their own hard numbers.
"They go out and say, 'We are losing money,' '' Pritsos said. "I say, 'Prove it is due to the ban.' "
The law is being challenged both in court and in the Nevada Legislature. Earlier this month, the parent company of Bilbo's Bar & Grill on West Charleston Boulevard challenged the law's constitutionality before the Nevada Supreme Court. That case is pending.
Pritsos said efforts to scrap the law helped determine the timing of the study's release.
"The act should be expanded, not repealed," Pritsos said. "We wanted to get these numbers out there now."
Fine maintained that common sense shouldn't be mandated by law.
"If somebody has a bad heart, they shouldn't be around smoke" he said. "And you don't need a smoking ban for that."
Contact reporter Valerie Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5286.