E-cigarette users out of luck in Ohio’s casinos…
E-cigarette users out of luck in Ohio’s casinos
April 27, 2013
By? Steve Wartenberg
By? Steve Wartenberg
Whenever she plays the slot machines in a casino, Kathleen Weber gets the urge to light up a cigarette.
“Every casino I’ve ever been to, you could smoke,” the Galloway resident said. “It’s a habit, to go to the casino and smoke. It’s a social thing.”
Knowing that smoking is illegal in Ohio’s casinos, Weber hoped to use an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, in the two local casinos to quell her nicotine cravings and help in her efforts to quit.
However, three of the state’s six casinos — Hollywood Casino Columbus, Scioto Downs Casino & Racetrack, and Hollywood Casino Toledo — have banned the devices.
E-cigarettes are cylindrical devices that often look like a cigarette. When the user inhales, this turns on a pressure-activated switch that heats up the nicotine-infused liquid inside, creating and releasing a vapor that is inhaled and then exhaled.Many other local venues also have forbidden the use of e-cigarettes, including Nationwide Arena, the Schottenstein Center, the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Crew Stadium and Bob Evans Farms restaurants.
“In keeping with the spirit of the state’s nonsmoking law, electronic cigarettes are not permitted,” said Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for Hollywood Columbus, whose employees are forbidden to smoke at work or even at home, and can be fired for breaking the rule.
E-cigarettes are permitted at the Horseshoe casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati and the recently opened ThistleDown racino near Cleveland.
“Customer feedback is the reason we allow them,” said Jennifer Kulczycki, spokeswoman for Rock Ohio Caesars, which operates all three.
Tenenbaum does not believe the state law that prohibits smoking and the casino’s policy that forbids e-cigarettes have hurt revenue at the local Hollywood casino.
“If you have two casinos near one another, and one allows smoking and one doesn’t, that can be a disadvantage,” he said. “But of all the gaming locations in Ohio, it’s of the least concern here in Columbus, given the vast majority of our customers come from a 50- to 75-mile radius.”
Smoking is allowed at the casinos in the neighboring states of Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The e-cigarette ban is a new development at Scioto Downs, where Weber said she had been allowed to take a puff on her e-cigarette as recently as April 14 without incident. She doesn’t believe e-cigarettes should be banned.
“We just recently implemented the policy, so there could have been some confusion on the floor,” said Scioto Downs spokeswoman Ashley Redmon. “We want to eliminate any type of nuisance, and we don’t want the other patrons confusing them with real cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes can legally be smoked at indoor venues such as casinos, arenas and restaurants. Ohio’s smoke-free act, which was passed in 2006, addresses the burning of tobacco, said Tessie Pollock, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health. “So, since this isn’t burning a tobacco product, it would not be addressed in the smoke-free act.”
But individual establishments are free to devise their own policy for the devices, she said.
“It’s no different than a dress code,” Tenenbaum said.
“Our general policy is we don’t allow anything that emits a vapor,” said Gary O’Brien, spokesman for Columbus Arena Sports and Entertainment, which manages Nationwide and Schottenstein arenas.
There has been much debate over the health issues and risks associated with e-cigarettes, which are still relatively new.
The Food and Drug Administration has argued that they have not yet been fully studied and contends that it’s unclear how much nicotine and other harmful chemicals are inhaled by users.
The FDA tried to block the sale of the devices, saying that they often are marketed as smoking-cessation devices, making them a product that would be controlled by the agency. A federal judge ruled in 2010 that e-cigarettes are to be regulated as tobacco products, not as drugs or medical devices.
A recent study at Boston University concluded that e-cigarettes are safer than real cigarettes and might help people stop smoking.
The evidence “shows them to be much safer than tobacco cigarettes and comparable in toxicity to conventional nicotine-replacement products,” Boston University professor Michael Siegel said in a statement.
Like policies at gambling venues, those at local bars and restaurants vary.The Park Street Tavern allows e-cigarettes.
“We don’t really have a policy, but as long as they’re legal, people can use them,” said Scott Schweitzer, manager of the tavern.
They’re also allowed at the Three-Legged Mare in the Arena District.
“There’s no reason not to,” said Jesse Clendenin, manager of the bar.
Restaurateur Elizabeth Lessner believes there is a reason to ban them and has done so in her six restaurants, which include Dirty Frank’s, Betty’s and Surly Girl.
“Our spaces are really tiny, and they expel something and we don’t really know what it is,” she said. “And, this winter, we had a major flu epidemic and there was concern that people’s spit was coming out in the mist.”
Lessner is not worried the ban will drive away customers.
“The happy people outnumber the unhappy people over it,” she said.
Weber compared the vapor to the steam rising from a hot cup of coffee.
“It doesn’t bother anyone,” she said.