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Casinos should eliminate smoking

As some of my friends know, I can be a pain in the neck to those who smoke. The letter from Dr. Eric Johnson ("Nostalgia can't justify smoking in bars" A4, July 29) reaffirmed my stance against cigarette smoking.

As some of my friends know, I can be a pain in the neck to those who smoke. The letter from Dr. Eric Johnson ("Nostalgia can't justify smoking in bars" A4, July 29) reaffirmed my stance against cigarette smoking.

It also reminded me how negligent American Indian tribes are about nonsmoking policies. Unfortunately, there probably are more smokers on reservations than in the rest of their respective states. So, while Minnesota and North Dakota are trying to close the door on smoking, tribal governments have their foot in the door, holding it open.

I was a smoker some 20 years ago, but now, I dislike the smell of the smoke on my clothes, the allergy headaches and stinging eyes. These symptoms are mild compared with other medical afflictions as a result from smoking. According to the National Cancer Institute, cigarettes contain 4,000 chemical agents, including 60 carcinogens and substances such as carbon monoxide, tar, arsenic, lead and nicotine, which is responsible for tobacco addiction. The substances in cigarettes cause cancer, emphysema, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses.

In the reservation political world, smoking bans, or a lack thereof, tend to follow the people in office. During the 1990 administration of Wilbur Wilkinson of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the smoke sometimes would be so heavy in the tribal council room it was difficult to see. Chairmen Ed Lonefight, Russell Mason, Tex Hall and Marcus Wells put smoking off-limits in the tribal office, and the air cleared. I think many of the tribes have similar histories -- many places are moving toward nonsmoking.

Casinos are an exception. They are tribally managed and are not smoke-free.


Most of the casinos have a board of directors that implements policies for the casino. Although there have been some changes in smoking policies, I don't know of any tribal casino in our region that is smoke-free.

At first, many casinos had smoke-free areas, but casino managers told me there were few people gambling in these small, out-of-the-way rooms, so they were eliminated. Why weren't nonsmokers playing the machines? Most of the nonsmoking areas had few machines and many of those were old. New machines are in the main part of the casino. New machines, as those of us who gamble know, are the ones that play well (or at least we think they do). Gamblers also like new machines because they tend to be more interesting to play. Some slot machines can be boring, but many of the newer ones have games within the games, making them more fun to play.

No casino has a smoke-free enclosed section, with exception of Prairie Knights. It has rooms that are smoke-free with open doors. They have less smoke, but certainly they are not smoke-free.

The casinos I've been in that are the most offensive to nonsmokers are Four Bears, New Town, N.D., (my hometown); Spirit Lake, Fort Totten, N.D.; The Connection and Dakota Magic, Sisseton, S.D.; Seven Clans casinos, Red Lake, Minn.; and Mystic Lake in Minneapolis. Mystic Lake has a small smoke-free area, and the area is overwhelmed by the smoke from the rest of the large casino. The dining rooms and cafes are not smoke-free.

I remember a young friend from Fort Berthold who was really proud of her new job at the Four Bears casino. She didn't smoke, and this job gave her financial stability that she couldn't get elsewhere on the reservation. A couple of years ago, I saw her and asked why she wasn't working at the casino anymore. She doctor told her she had to quit. The secondhand smoke in the casino caused emphysema.

Casinos tend to be good moneymakers. Tribes think a nonsmoking policy at their casinos will cut into their profits, but as Dr. Johnson said, only 20 percent of adults in North Dakota smoke.

For the health of tribal members and people who gamble, casinos should cooperate with state laws and support nonsmoking bans.

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