For decades, tobacco companies tried to block federal and local efforts to ban smoking in public places, mainly by attacking studies suggesting that second-hand smoke--the smoke from other people's cigarettes-- is dangerous. But it hasn't been successful in blocking the latest study. A clinical trial that comprised 125 casino employees in Nevada concluded there is a direct link between exposure to second hand smoke and damage to casino employees' DNA.
"The more they were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, the more the DNA damage, and that's going to lead to a higher risk of heart disease and cancer down the road," said Chris Pritsos, Professor of Dept. of Nutrition, University of Nevada.
Public awareness of the health risks posed by exposure to second-hand smoke continues to grow. Research has proven that second-hand smoke exposure is linked to elevated risk of lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer, and breast cancer and to cardiovascular disease, including heart disease.
The World Heath Organization defines second-hand smoke as the following:
"Involuntary (or passive) smoking is the exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke (SHS) which is a mixture of exhaled mainstream smoke and side stream smoke released from a smouldering cigarette or other smoking device (cigar, pipe, bidi, etc.) and diluted with ambient air. Second-hand tobacco smoke is also referred to as "environmental" tobacco smoke (ETS). Involuntary smoking involves inhaling carcinogens and other toxic components that are present in second-hand tobacco smoke."The California Air Resources Board has formally classified second-hand smoke as a toxic air contaminant that may cause and/or contribute to death or serious illness.
As far back as 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned of health risks associated with second hand smoke (although the tobacco industry barely noticed). Their conclusions: second-hand smoke caused thousands of respiratory infections including asthma. Since this study, asthma in both children and adults has skyrocketed.
More worrisome than occasional exposure to second hand smoke is daily exposure. The EPA further concluded that "smoking should not be allowed in any workplace due to the risk of people who are work in those places on a daily basis, particularly restaurants and bars." And casinos.
According to Frank J. Fahrenkopf, president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, the smoking issue is a matter of trying to please both customers who smoke and employee health. "Any new major hotel-casino in Nevada is going to have the utmost cutting-edge technology designed to drag that smoke out of there so our employees and nonsmoking customers are not affected," he said. "No system is perfect yet, but we continue as an industry to work on it." When workers' health is at risk, that industry may take too long to find the technology to eradicate second-hand smoke.