Wisconsin Ho-Chunk Tribal Casino Vaping Ban Stirs Emotions on All Sides

Posted on: November 9, 2019, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: November 8, 2019, 11:43h.

Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison has forbidden e-cigarette use and vaping inside the venue,  adding to its existing ban on tobacco products. The recent move led to wide support from anti-smoking supporters, who hope it encourages other gaming properties to become totally smoke-free.

Dr. Michael Fiore, a University of Wisconsin expert on smoking cessation, praised Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison for its new vaping ban. The casino previously banned tobacco use. (Image: University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention )

Four years ago, cigarette and cigar smoking were prohibited inside of the 60,000-square-foot tribal venue. But tobacco alternatives, like vaping, were permitted until Monday’s expanded prohibition.

Dr. Michael Fiore, director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention,  led several national initiatives to encourage smokers to quit. He called Ho-Chunk a “leader nationally” in the smoke-free environment initiative.

Making a casino a smoke-free and vape-free environment is good for business and is also good for health,” Fiore told Casino.org. “It [Ho-Chunk] has taken an important action for the health of its employees and its patrons.”

“We applaud Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison’s management’s decision to strengthen its popular smoke-free indoor air policy to also be vape-free,”echoed Bronson Frick, a spokesman for Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

“Shifting smoking of any kind to the outdoor smoking patios off the gaming floor keeps the indoor air fresh and healthy for everyone in the building,” Frick added in a statement to Casino.org. “Casino ventilation systems do not address the health hazards of secondhand smoke.”

The Madison casino has an outdoor heated space where vaping and smoking are permitted.

Ho-Chunk Casino Defends Ban

In a statement to Fox 47 TV News in Madison, Daniel Brown, the executive manager of Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, said the tobacco smoking ban that was put in place in 2015 “has been successful and no doubt our decision to go smoke-free contributed immeasurably.”

“It enabled us to strengthen our customer base by attracting new customers,” Brown said. “Additionally, a recent employee survey indicated positive comments from our staff. We strive for a healthy environment for both our guests and our staff.”

Previously, the casino was also alcohol-free. It now has a bar that serves wine, beer, and other drinks.

Dr. Fiore also points out that ex-smokers who find themselves in a smoky environment face risk. They may feel pressure to smoke again and are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Fiore added that “enormous progress” has been made on cutting down the prevalence of smoking in the US. Some 43 percent of American adults smoked in the early 1960s, and now it’s 14 percent, he said.

The majority of people neither smoke nor vape,” Fiore commented about the US population. “When [we] survey individuals, most of them want to be in smoke-free environments.”

Even e-cigarette use can release nicotine, which can lead to “biologically detected levels” of the harmful substance in the blood stream of someone standing next to a person who is vaping, Fiore said.

This is not only a concern for casino patrons, but for employees who work for eight or more hours daily on casino floors. Just from traditional (combustible) cigarette use, an estimated 50,000 Americans will die each year because of secondhand smoke exposure, Fiore said. He adds most of the fatalities are because of cardiovascular issues, with a lower number caused by lung cancer.

Because vaping is relatively new, specific long-term health impacts are generally not available. It has been revealed, however, that there were close to 1,900 cases of lung disorders associated with vaping as of the end of last month, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, quoted by USA Today. Vaping also led to 37 deaths nationwide, the data claims.

Vaping Praised as Tobacco Alternative

But not everyone is supportive of vaping bans. Lindsey Stroud, state government relations manager of the Heartland Institute, argues the Wisconsin casino’s e-cigarette and vaping ban “is very unfortunate for tobacco harm reduction.

“E-cigarettes and vaping devices are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes and should not be included into any combustible cigarette policy,” Stroud explained to Casino.org. “Despite Ho-Chunk’s opinion that a vape-free casino will be healthier, vaping emits very little to almost no harmful constituents.”

She describes e-cigarettes as a “tobacco harm reduction tool that has helped an estimated three million American adults quit smoking combustible cigarettes.”

Stroud adds that “unfortunately,” further vaping bans “in casinos are expected…. This is disheartening, as it treats e-cigarettes in the same manner as combustible cigarettes and completely negates the notion of tobacco harm reduction,” Stroud said. 

She points out, too, that gamblers tend to be smokers. Also, many vapers are former smokers, she adds. And she advises casinos they could lose patrons by initiating smoking bans.

“There have been studies on the impact of smoking bans on casino revenue, with Illinois’ smoking ban decreasing casino revenue by over 20 percent,” Stroud said.

“I imagine that bans on electronic cigarettes and vaping devices will have the same effect. I also imagine that casino patrons will simply go to other casinos that do allow them to vape and/or smoke,” she said.

Looking back, a 2006 University of Nevada, Reno study revealed approximately four out of five gamblers in Nevada did not smoke. Some 21.5 percent of gamblers in Las Vegas were smokers, 22.6 percent of gamblers in Reno/Sparks were smokers, and 17 percent of gamblers in Lake Tahoe smoked, the study showed.

But other sources at that time suggested the rate of smoking among casino-goers was much higher. It may have been closer to 70 percent, the sources claimed.

Casinos nationwide have different policies on allowing smoking inside of venues. Commercial casinos could be governed by state or local laws, while tribal casinos are likely self-governing if they are on sovereign land.

Vaping Explained

Vaping is becoming a more common practice over the last decade. But what does it entail?

People who vape use an e-cigarette or related device, such as a pen or advanced personal vaporizer. Nicotine is inhaled as a vapor and then exhaled.

The vapor was originally a liquid, but changes to an aerosol after heating. The liquid frequently is flavored, which has led to vaping use among youths.

The federal government is likely to soon implement a limited vaping ban on flavored vaping liquids.