Smoking calculator stringency challenged

Last updated 12:57 14/02/2013

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A smoking lounge in Auckland’s SkyCity casino is being held up as an example of an "inadequate" Ministry of Health tool to decide what an open space for smoking is.

The "open areas" calculator was a tool created in the 1990s, used by the ministry to assess whether an area counted as an open area or an internal one for the purposes of the Smoke-free Environments Act.

A New Zealand Doctor magazine report said SkyCity’s Diamond Lounge, a gaming room renovated in 2012, had horizontal slat windows and extractor fans, and was deemed to be an open space by the calculator.

A SkyCity spokeswoman said the casino had gone "above and beyond" the requirements for an open space, but several organisations said the calculator needs adjusting.

The Cancer Society, along with the Salvation Army and the Problem Gambling Foundation, have asked the High Court to review judgments made by the ministry and Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) that allowed people to smoke while they gambled at the Diamond Lounge.

Graeme Ramsey, chief executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation, told New Zealand Doctor the tool had been used by SkyCity to create an area that, while meeting the requirements, most people would consider indoors.

He said the time out a smoker took from sitting at a poker machine was eliminated by allowing smoking in the room.

"It can be an important time for them to think about what they’ve been doing, how long they’ve been there and how much they’ve been losing... and that was lost," he said.

"And now we’re in the position where SkyCity have applied to create even more smoking areas, and very substantial ones, in which gambling can occur."

But SkyCity spokeswoman Kelly Armitage said the lounge had been inspected by the ministry and ARPHS and exceeded the calculator’s requirements for an open space.

Green Party gambling spokeswoman Denise Roche warned the decision to classify the lounge as an open space paved the way for other bars and restaurants to follow suit.

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