Five years after Wisconsin made bars and restaurants smoke-free, an American Indian tribe is doing the same.
That’s good news for the workers and customers of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s gambling facility on Madison’s Southeast Side.
Other tribes across the state should follow suit.
Wisconsin’s successful and well-accepted indoor public smoking ban, which marked its fifth year this summer, didn’t apply to the tribes because they are considered sovereign nations.
But as the Ho-Chunk just showed in Madison, nothing is stopping them from doing the right thing on their own.
Moreover, the change suggests market forces are catching up with public health concerns. Even smokers no longer expect to smoke inside public places. Nor do many want to do so.
A statewide poll last year found 86 percent of respondents approve of the state’s law requiring smokers to step outside of bars and restaurants to light up. That includes a majority — 59 percent — of smokers, according to the Public Opinion Strategies poll of 600 people.
In addition, the American Cancer Society points to convincing evidence of significant health benefits, including fewer respiratory problems for bartenders and lower tobacco use among young people who no longer see adults lighting up at bowling alleys, restaurants and other settings.
On top of that, fewer smokers are smoking inside their homes. The healthy habit of stepping outside as a courtesy to nonsmokers — some of them children — has extended far beyond the tavern.
Yet for years, American Indian casinos have continued to allow cigarette smoking (though many facilities cordon off sections for patrons who don’t like it).
The Ho-Chunk gambling hall in Madison this month became the first casino in Wisconsin to go totally smoke-free, according to the tribe. A survey of customers apparently prompted the change.
We’re still not keen on the Madison gambling hall being a casino. That’s because more than a decade ago Madison residents voted overwhelmingly not to allow a casino in what was supposed to be a binding referendum. The Ho-Chunk facility at that time was a bingo hall.
Over the years, it has added more games — including electronic poker — and now advertises itself as a casino. It recently won a legal challenge to its video poker games in federal appeals court, though the state is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision.
That dispute aside, the Ho-Chunk Nation is leading Wisconsin’s gambling industry in the right direction — out of the cigarette haze. We encourage the Ho-Chunk to make all of its casinos smoke-free, and for other tribes to do the same.
It’s best for public health and increasingly good for business.