Public safety is the number one function of government. Almost everyone would agree with that statement. Whether it’s enforcing building codes so the ceiling doesn’t come falling down on us or food safety laws that mean we don’t eat rotten meat, most people agree these are important protections. There is, however, a glaring public safety gap in Louisiana and it’s centered on clean indoor air - specifically smoking indoors. In the state law that made office buildings and restaurants smoke-free, there is a loophole that allows bars and casinos to still let toxic, cancer-causing chemicals be released in the air that people breathe.

Why? The evidence is clear that smoke-filled air indoors is bad for you, and that it why it has been forbidden in almost all inside spaces. So why are bars and casinos allowed to serve toxic air when they aren’t allowed to serve toxic food or water? The logical question is: What’s the difference? People go to bars to drink and casinos to gamble – not to smoke. Decades of data show that drinkers and gamblers smoke the same amount as anyone else, so the idea that they are somehow different does not make sense.

And then there are the employees. How come it’s bad for a lawyer or an office worker (including those who work in casino offices) to sit in a smoky office, but it’s okay for a blackjack dealer or a cocktail waitress? Why is one person’s health more important or less important than another’s? Saying “the blackjack dealer can get another job” is especially unfair when we know we don’t force anyone else out of work just so they can breathe. Don’t all of us deserve equal protection under the law?  

As for the economic arguments, those too are just smoke and mirrors. Though casinos claim they will lose money and bars fear they will because of the rhetoric, evidence shows these claims are exaggerated or not true. For example, gaming revenues fluctuate and, generally, casinos across the state and the US are dropping regardless of whether or not they are smoke-free. And with 82% percent of the population being nonsmokers, more places are becoming non-smoking to attract customers, including more than 500 gaming facilities (many in Las Vegas) and over 4,000 cities, such as New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Austin. Moreover, casinos and often government officials don’t account for the money taxpayers lose by paying for tobacco-related illnesses (the biggest cause of death and disease in Louisiana) in both their private insurance premiums and in government health care dollars. In Louisiana, that last amount alone is almost $2 billion or over $1,000 per household.

The fact is that 70% of Louisiana residents want all indoor places to be smoke-free. The statewide law went into effect in 2007, so bar and casino employees have been holding their breath for 10 years waiting to have the same rights as everyone else. That’s long enough.

- Lydia Kuykendal, cancer prevention advocate

AuthorJoseph Gautier