Ohio casinos divided on use of electronic cigarettes

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Patrons wanting to use electronic cigarettes as an alternative to smoking tobacco, which is prohibited in most public places by state law, are out of luck at three casinos in Ohio.

But three other casinos in the state allow use of the electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

Hollywood Casino Columbus, Scioto Downs Casino & Racetrack, and Hollywood Casino Toledo have banned the cylindrical devices that often look like a cigarette, although Horseshoe casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati and the recently opened Thistledown Racino near Cleveland allow the device.

The devices work through a pressure-activated switch that turns on when a user inhales on them. That heats the nicotine-infused liquid inside and creates and releases a vapor that is inhaled and then exhaled.

The e-cigarettes can legally be smoked at indoor venues such as casinos, arenas and restaurants in Ohio, said Tessie Pollock, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department.

Ohio's smoke-free act approved in 2006 addresses the burning of tobacco, and since using an e-cigarette isn't t burning a tobacco product, "it would not be addressed in the smoke-free act," she said.

Bob Tenenbaum, a spokesman for Hollywood Columbus said its ban on the electronic cigarettes is "In keeping with the spirit of the state's nonsmoking law."

But "customer feedback is the reason we allow them," said Jennifer Kulczycki, spokeswoman for Rock Ohio Caesars, which operates the Horseshoe casinos in Cincinnati and Cleveland and the Thistledown racino.

Kathleen Weber, of Galloway, likes to smoke at casinos and had hoped that she could use the electronic cigarettes as an alternative in Ohio.

"It's a habit, to go to the casino and smoke," she said. "It's a social thing."

Weber compared the vapor to the steam from a hot cup of coffee and says it "doesn't bother anyone."

Smoking is allowed at casinos in the neighboring states of Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Tenenbaum doesn't believe the state law prohibiting smoking and the casino's policy forbidding e-cigarettes have hurt revenue at the Hollywood casino in Columbus.

"If you have two casinos near one another, and one allows smoking and one doesn't, that can be a disadvantage," he said. But he said that is of the least concern in Columbus, where most customers come from a 50- to 75-mile radius.

Scioto Downs spokeswoman Ashley Redmon said the reason for prohibiting e-cigarettes there is to "eliminate any type of nuisance" and avoid other patrons confusing them with real cigarettes.

The debate over any health issues or risks associated with the devices continues.

The Food and Drug Administration, which has argued that e-cigarettes have not yet been fully studied and that it's unclear how much nicotine and other harmful chemicals are inhaled, tried to block the devices' sale. The agency argued that e-cigarettes often are marketed as smoking-cessation devices and should be under FDA control. But a federal judge ruled in 2010 that e-cigarettes are to be regulated as tobacco products, not as drugs or medical devices.

A recent Boston University study concluded that e-cigarettes are safer than real cigarettes and might help people stop smoking.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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