Open Access Research article

Small proportions of actively-smoking patrons and high PM2.5 levels in southern California tribal casinos: support for smoking bans or designated smoking areas

Neil E Klepeis123*, Jason Omoto1, Seow Ling Ong1, Harmeena Sahota Omoto1 and Narinder Dhaliwal1

Author Affiliations

1 Education, Training, and Research, Inc, Scotts Valley, CA, USA

2 Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University Research Foundation, Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health (CBEACH), San Diego, CA, USA

3 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:819  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-819

Published: 22 September 2012



Nearly all California casinos currently allow smoking, which leads to potentially high patron exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke pollutants. Some argue that smoking restrictions or bans would result in a business drop, assuming > 50% of patrons smoke. Evidence in Nevada and responses from the 2008 California tobacco survey refute this assertion. The present study investigates the proportion of active smokers in southern California tribal casinos, as well as occupancy and PM2.5 levels in smoking and nonsmoking sections.


We measured active-smoker and total-patron counts during Friday or Saturday night visits (two per casino) to smoking and nonsmoking gaming areas inside 11 southern California casinos. We counted slot machines and table games in each section, deriving theoretical maximum capacities and occupancy rates. We also measured PM2.5 concentrations (or used published levels) in both nonsmoking and smoking areas.


Excluding one casino visit with extremely high occupancy, we counted 24,970 patrons during 21 casino visits of whom 1,737 were actively smoking, for an overall active- smoker proportion of 7.0% and a small range of ~5% across casino visits (minimum of 5% and maximum of 10%). The differences in mean inter-casino active-smoker proportions were not statistically significant. Derived occupancy rates were 24% to 215% in the main (low-stakes) smoking-allowed slot or table areas. No relationship was found between observed active-smoker proportions and occupancy rate. The derived maximum capacities of nonsmoking areas were 1% to 29% of the overall casino capacity (most under 10%) and their observed occupancies were 0.1 to over 3 times that of the main smoking-allowed casino areas. Seven of twelve visits to nonsmoking areas with no separation had occupancy rates greater than main smoking areas. Unenclosed nonsmoking areas don’t substantially protect occupants from PM2.5 exposure. Nonsmoking areas encapsulated inside smoking areas or in a separate, but unenclosed, area had PM2.5 levels that were 10 to 60 μg/m3 and 6 to 23 μg/m3 higher than outdoor levels, respectively, indicating contamination from smoking.


Although fewer than roughly 10% of casino patrons are actively smoking on average, these individuals substantially increase PM2.5 exposure for all patrons in smoking and unenclosed nonsmoking areas. Nonsmoking areas may be too inconvenient, small, or undesirable to serve a substantial number of nonsmoking patrons. Imposing indoor smoking bans, or contained smoking areas with a maximum capacity of up to 10% of the total patronage, would offer protection from PM2.5 exposures for nonsmoking patrons and reduce employee exposures.

Secondhand smoke; Fine particles; Active smoker counts; Nonsmoking gaming