Casino workers “are really the most exposed group in society now,” said study author James Repace, a Washington D.C.-area consultant who studies the effects of secondhand smoke. He added that the only other groups exposed to similar amounts of smoke are bartenders – but many states have banned smoking in bars and restaurants.
Nonsmoking mandates at casinos remain rare in the United States. As a result, gambling and smoking still have a strong connection.
In the new study, Repace recruited volunteers to visit three Pennsylvania casinos for 4 hours. After the visits, he measured the levels of a byproduct of tobacco smoke in the urine of eight subjects. The levels were approximately 10 times higher than average.
Repace also tested the air quality inside three casinos. He found that the levels of two indicators of tobacco smoke – cancer-causing chemicals and particles small enough to inhale – were an average of four to six times higher inside than outside.
Repace said the total number of casino workers in the state is expected to soon reach 12,000.
Scientists expect that more than 90 percent of the deaths will be from heart disease, with the rest from lung cancer, which is uncommon in nonsmokers. Repace said that an annual death rate of six per 10,000 is roughly five times the extra risk of death for mineworkers from Pennsylvania mine disasters.
Holly Thomsen, a spokesperson for the American Gaming Association, a trade group for the casino industry, said its members are committed to “the highest level of safety and comfort” inside casinos.
Casinos serve both smoking and nonsmoking customers, she said, and “we realize that balancing the needs of these two distinct sets of patrons, as well as those of our employees who don’t smoke, is of paramount importance.”
The Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute, which has studied the risk of secondhand smoke to flight attendants when airlines allowed smoking, funded the study.