wo Oklahoma tribes have decided to temporarily ban smoking at their casinos, and the decision was praised Wednesday by the American Lung Association in Oklahoma.
“We applaud the decision of Comanche and Cherokee casinos for adopting a smoke-free workplace policy eliminating the smoking and vaping of commercial tobacco products indoors as they re-open after COVID-19," said Charlie Gagen, advocacy director of the American Lung Association in Oklahoma, as reported by The Oklahoman. "This policy will protect the health of workers and customers from dangerous secondhand smoke and e-cigarette emissions, and we call for the permanent adoption of this policy."
Brandon Scott, spokesman for the Cherokee Nation Businesses, confirmed Wednesday that the decision to suspend smoking at Cherokee casinos was linked to Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.'s executive order requiring the wearing of masks on Cherokee business properties. "As long as masks are in place, that is going to be the policy," Scott said.
Reaction to the suspension of smoking has been mixed, he said. "We're getting a lot of positive feedback from people that are really enjoying the fact that we have a nonsmoking casino," he said. "Sure, we have some people that are also upset, but you're always going to have both camps."
Scott said the tribe's experience in dealing with COVID-19 could ultimately lead to some permanent change to the Cherokee Nation's casino smoking policy. "I know there are probably some higher up discussions on whether there's going to be some permanence in that or there's going to be a modified smoking or sections that are different. I doubt it will the same as it was before."
Comanche Nation Entertainment announced that masks would be required and smoking would be prohibited when it released a long list of new protocols in June as it was reopening its casinos. The company said at the time the decision follows the guidelines that have been recommended by health experts to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Oklahoma has more than 30 tribes with casino operations and all of them have made significant changes in their operations to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, said Sheila Morago, executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.
She said some Oklahoma casinos require customers to wear masks, while others don't. Many have also made changes to their smoking policies, she said. "I know a number of them have designated smoking areas outside or in different parts of their casinos far away from other people."
The Chickasaw Nation, for instance, has not eliminated smoking in its casinos, but has established additional nonsmoking gaming areas in its larger casinos. Direct entrances from parking areas allow patrons to enter those areas without passing through areas where smoking is permitted, a spokeswoman said. Patrons are required to wear masks, with "comfortable adjustments to masks allowed for purposes of eating, drinking or smoking."
The American Lung Association in Oklahoma is urging casinos that have both smoking and nonsmoking areas to go further and ban smoking altogether. “Over a decade ago, the U.S. Surgeon General found that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect people from exposure," Gagen said. “Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate this exposure."