Smoke-Filled Casinos

If the extra $1 billion surplus announced by the state Senate weren’t a big enough hurdle to Eliot Spitzer’s plan to reduce health care spending, how about this letter from the American Cancer Society and other groups who concerned over a loophole that’ll allow smoking in the casinos built in the Catskills.

“We believe the compact’s failure to meaningfully address smoking is backsliding and a bad deal for the health of New Yorkers.”

The letter goes on to say:

“Your strong record as Attorney General in combating tobacco’s threat makes this situation even more disappointing and uncomfortable for us.”

The full letter is after the jump.

– Azi Paybarah

American Cancer Society
American Heart Association
American Lung Association of New York State, Inc.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
League of Women Voters – New York State
New York Public Interest Research Group

By Hand

February 23, 2007

Honorable Eliot Spitzer
Governor
State of New York
Executive Chamber
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Re: Gaming compact with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

Dear Governor Spitzer:

We write to express our deep disappointment with the terms of the gaming
compact negotiated with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Secondhand tobacco smoke kills more than 50,000 Americans every year. New
York’s groundbreaking Clean Indoor Air Law, by prohibiting smoking in
worksites and public places, has reduced the threat of heart disease,
respiratory symptoms and cancer to nonsmoking workers and customers.

We believe persons working in or patronizing a gaming facility are entitled
to the same protection from deadly secondhand smoke that is available to
them everywhere else in New York. Regrettably, this agreement does nothing
to protect 3,000 workers or hundreds of thousands of casino patrons from
secondhand smoke.

While New York does not apply its laws and regulations on Native American
lands, your office could have insisted that the St. Regis Mohawks agree in
the compact to abide by the smoking restrictions delineated in section
1399-o of the Public Health Law. This would have meant, in effect, that
smoking would have been prohibited in all public areas and workspaces
within the facility. Indeed, the compact mandates that the Tribe’s
regulations “governing building, sanitary, health standards and fire safety
…shall be no less rigorous than current standards imposed by” the State,
with one glaring exception.With regard to smoking regulations, this
agreement states only that the Mohawks will maintain smoke-free
environments “within portions” of the facility. The agreement does not
specify the number, location, size and configuration of these “portions,”
nor does it define “smoke-free.” Apparently, the Tribe will be able to
comply with this requirement by simply declaring some of the hotel guest
rooms, or a section of a restaurant, to be non-smoking. In any case, it is
clear that how much or how little workers and patrons are protected from
secondhand smoke will be entirely up to the Tribe and facility management.

In 2003, New York recognized that such an arrangement protects no one and
enacted the Clean Indoor Air Act. In 2006, confirming the wisdom of New
York’s landmark law, the U.S. Surgeon General in a comprehensive report
concluded that secondhand smoke causes cancer and heart disease in exposed
nonsmokers and that “there is no risk-free level of exposure.”

All gaming facilities in Delaware are smoke-free. New Jersey state law
already prohibits smoking everywhere in casinos except on the gaming floor,
and the state legislature is now considering a bill to make casinos 100
percent smoke free. That measure will override a recently enacted Atlantic
City ordinance confining smoking to a separately enclosed and ventilated
area no more than 25 percent of the gaming floor. Pennsylvania similarly
is considering legislation that will make all workplaces, including gaming
facilities, smoke-free.

We believe the compact’s failure to meaningfully address smoking is
backsliding and a bad deal for the health of New Yorkers. At a time when
smoke free environments are becoming the norm all over the world, and New
York is recognized as a leader in this death and disease-preventing
movement, this agreement freezes in place the bad old days of smoke-filled
rooms, subjecting the nonsmoking majority to the pollution generated by the
small minority that still uses tobacco.

Accordingly, unless you can renegotiate this portion of the agreement to
assure a smoke-free facility, we will urge the Legislature to refuse to
carve this loophole into the law it overwhelmingly enacted four years ago,
and we will continue to oppose any gaming compact that fails to protect New
Yorkers from this serious health threat.

Your strong record as Attorney General in combating tobacco’s threat makes
this situation even more disappointing and uncomfortable for us. We have
vigorously supported your past efforts to protect public health from
tobacco and expect to do so in the future. We hope that under your
leadership New York will continue to be a leader on this issue, including
in promoting safe, smoke free gaming environments.

Sincerely,

Russell Sciandra
American Cancer Society

Mr. Rifkin
Dr. Daines
Speaker Silver
Senator Bruno