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Let’s clear the air

Cari Herington
Nevada Cancer Coalition

To non-Nevadans, having to find a “smoke free” meeting or event location may sound somewhat odd. In many other states, statewide clean indoor air laws ensure that smoke free facilities are not the exception, but the norm. However in Nevada, the majority of available square footage for meetings and events is located in establishments that permit smoking within some areas of the building. And as one of our nation’s major hospitality, meeting, and conference destinations, this poses a problem as we compete to bring in large events and visitors to the Silver State.

Smoking rates have declined over the past two decades, and Nevada’s public health advocates have worked to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke from all workplaces and public indoor spaces. A major success was achieved in part in 2007 when voters approved the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act. The law eliminated smoking from many indoor locations, but included some exemptions, primarily areas where minors are prohibited yet are often adjacent to an event or meeting location. The Issue

While smoking is no longer permitted in most meeting and event spaces, the proximity of meeting space to smoking areas along with shared ventilation systems allows secondhand smoke to drift throughout a facility. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers has confirmed that engineering approaches, including current and advanced dilution ventilation or air cleaning technologies, should not be relied upon to control risks from Environmental Tobacco Smoke (secondhand smoke) in spaces where smoking occurs. It’s clear — the only means of effectively eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure to tobacco smoke is to completely prohibit indoor smoking.

The health impacts of smoking are common knowledge. What is not as commonly known are the health impacts of secondhand smoke, which are extensive and potentially just as serious. Secondhand smoke can lead to lung cancer in non-smokers, as well as stroke and coronary heart disease.

The Business Costs

According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, when smoking is allowed in the workplace, business owners increase their costs of doing business. Employers pay increased health, life, and fire insurance premiums, make higher workers’ compensation payments, incur higher worker absenteeism, and settle for lower worker productivity.

Non-smoking workers exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace report higher levels of eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, and shortness of breath, all of which can decrease productivity and increase the number of sick days used.

Many businesses already have smoke-free workplace policies to avoid these increased costs and maintain a healthy environment for employees. In that case, why host a meeting or company event, or send employees to one, in an environment that’s the opposite of company policy?

Our Economy

Historically, Nevada’s economy has been significantly tied to the hospitality industry and a plethora of meetings, conventions, and events. The Nevada Resort Association reports that Nevada hosted more than 5.8 million convention attendees in fiscal year 2014. Those that live in Nevada are impacted by the success of the industry as well. It is estimated that Nevada’s tourism industry supports 432,000 jobs and has a $52 billion impact on the state’s economy.

However this does not necessarily mean that our economy is also tied to tobacco use and smoking. The nearly 53 million visitors to the state each year are coming for entertainment, dining, shopping, the outdoors, and meetings and special events. What they’re not coming to Nevada for is exposure to the same secondhand smoke they’ve already banned in their own states.

Smoke Free Meetings

The push for smoke free meeting and event space isn’t new; it is, however, a growing trend. Smoking is being eliminated from more locations, including in many convention cities in direct competition with Reno and Las Vegas. Just last year a smoke free ordinance passed in New Orleans, protecting bartenders, musicians, and other hospitality industry workers from secondhand smoke.

Nevada has already lost opportunities for meetings and events based on permissive indoor smoking policies. Organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute and National Institute on Drug Abuse have policies which specify that all meetings and conferences organized and/or sponsored by these organizations shall be held in a town, city, county, or state that is smoke free. The organizations are just two of dozens more with similar policies.

More than 200 locations in Nevada offer 100 percent smoke free environments for meetings and events, ranging from boutique hotels and community centers to large ballroom and stadium facilities. But it’s time for all of Nevada to recognize the growing demand for smoke free indoor spaces and move towards creating environments that will draw the majority of our population and visitors, which are overwhelmingly non-smokers. The health of our workers, residents, and visitors as well as our continued economic viability depend on it.

Until then, those looking for a smoke free venue for a meeting or event in Nevada can find more than 200 locations of varying size, cost, and amenities listed in Nevada’s Smoke Free Meetings directory online at http://www.Smoke FreeMeetings.org.

Cari Herington is the executive director of the Nevada Cancer Coalition.