Banning Smoking in Tribal Casinos



In American Indian (AI) communities that have casinos, health is improving, thanks to more employment and less poverty. But it is not all good news because casino workers (of whom 1 in 4 is an AI) and patrons are still exposed to secondhand smoke in many casinos, say researchers from the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC) in Lac du Flambeau (LDF), Wisconsin; Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, in Oregon; and the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Tribal casinos are exempt from statewide bans on smoking because of tribal sovereignty. However, though smoking has declined in other segments of the population, it has not among AIs, where the incidence is 40%—more than twice that of the general U.S. population. Moreover, the tobacco industry has increasingly targeted tribal casinos, the researchers add.

Only 6 of 237 tribes operating casinos have voluntarily implemented casino-wide smoking bans. The tribal community is aiming to do something about that, though. The GLITC, a consortium of 12 member tribes in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, and the LDF tribal nation, a member of GLITC, collaborated with the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino in northern Wisconsin to survey casino patrons to find out whether a smoking ban could get passed.

The project team’s analysis was based on survey responses from 957 casino patrons who were questioned about their opinions on smoking, secondhand smoke, and smoking bans. Most respondents were white and nonsmokers. A majority (69%) were bothered to some extent by smoke in the casino, and 81% believed secondhand smoke is harmful. Those who preferred a smoke-free casino were older, white, and gambled less. Over half (54%) said they were likely to visit more often, 28% said they were indifferent to a smoke-free casino, and 18% said they would visit less if the casino were smoke free.

The researchers cite other studies that have found that only 20% of casino patrons smoke. They also say smoking bans are not cited as reasons people visit casinos less, and smoking bans do not result in revenue loss for casinos.

This is the first study to employ a community-based and tribally led approach. The access would not have been possible without the “significant trust” between GLITC and the LDF tribal nation, the researchers say. The casino, owned and operated by the tribal nation whose members indirectly benefit from casino revenue, was responsive to community concerns about secondhand smoke, they add. This suggests that tribal communities may be “uniquely suited…to play a leadership role in a smoke-free casino movement.”

Brokenleg IS, Barber TK, Bennett NL, Peart Boyce S, Blue Bird Jernigan V. Am J Prev Med. 2014;47(3):290-299.
doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.04.006.

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