Study finds unsafe secondhand smoke levels

Restaurants located within casinos still contain unsafe levels of secondhand smoke when compared to EPA guidelines post the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, a new study shows.

"It doesn’t just stay on the casino floors,” said Nancy York, a nursing professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who conducted the study between November 2007 and March 2008.

"The smoke is drifting, which is a normal phenomenon, into areas that are supposed to be nonsmoking. The only way to have a nonsmoking area is to be a nonsmoking building.”

The findings were released this week.

The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in restaurants as well as bars that serve food, was enacted in December 2006.

The study’s goal was to determine the general relationship between air quality in nonsmoking restaurants that are within smoke-permitting casinos. York and other researchers randomly selected 16 restaurants — eight on the Strip and eight throughout the Las Vegas Valley — located in casinos.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky’s public health department also helped gather data for the study.

Using small air quality monitors, researchers measured the air inside the casino first, then within a restaurant inside that casino. York said "measurements were taken as if we were inhaling smoke like regular patrons.”

The monitors were worn under the clothing of York and other researchers doing the study and the restaurants were not aware their air quality was being measured.

The study did not name the restaurants monitored nor the casinos in which they were located.

Though secondhand smoke pollution in the restaurants was lower than in the overall casinos, 12 of the restaurants still had air pollution levels that exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations for indoor air quality.

"It’s just really hard to determine what impact smoke bans have on nonsmoking restaurants inside smoke-permitting casinos,” York said.

Nevada’s controversial ban, passed in November 2006, prohibits smoking in nearly all buildings in the state where the public might visit. Casino floors, brothels and smoke parlors where tobacco products are sold are exempt. So are certain businesses with unrestricted gaming licenses.

Smokers who violate the act are subject to a $100 fine for each infraction. Businesses can be fined if they do not post "No Smoking" signs and fail to remove ashtrays and smoking paraphernalia.

A challenge to the law is on appeal with the state Supreme Court. Businesses are challenging a decision by District Judge Douglas Herndon to uphold civil penalties for violators.

That appeal is awaiting a hearing, said Michael Hackett, who campaigned for the smoke ban.

Hackett said he had not seen UNLV’s study. However, he expected there would be a difference in the air quality of restaurants that are inside the newer casinos versus the older ones.

The health district was left with the sole enforcement responsibility in Southern Nevada after a judge in December 2006 removed criminal penalties from the law, taking away any law enforcement role in ensuring compliance.

In October 2007 the Southern Nevada Health District’s health board directed the agency’s staff to develop regulations that could clear up any problems and challenges in enforcing the law. Staff also was directed to work closely with local taverns on those regulations and to gather public feedback through future workshops.

A public workshop was held last year.

The decision to develop regulations was the result of the health district’s staff having concerns about approaching patrons of restaurants who were violating the law and citing them.

Stephanie Bethel, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, said the state is reviewing the proposed regulations. Meanwhile, the health district is continuing to field complaints from the public regarding violations.

Even if health district staff were to issue citations, there is no clear method yet for handling those citations in court.

Of the study, York said, "Certainly for people with existing heart and lung disease it probably isn’t a good idea to be within casinos for an extended period of time. But we’re not advocating for anything. We’re just presenting the information to the public.”

UNLV also is conducting a study on the economic impact of the law on businesses. Results of that study should be available by spring, York said.

Contact reporter Annette Wells at or 702-383-0283.

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