I remember being a teenager in Reno — just driving age — and my mom would ask me to pick her up from a local casino. She had spent a few hours there playing her favorite video poker machines. And when she got in the car, she always smelled like a lit cigarette.
I can still smell the smoke when I think back on this memory. And ever since, every time I’ve left a business meeting or networking event or client dinner at a casino, I’ve walked away smelling the exact same way. Even though I don’t smoke, the smell permeated my clothes, my hair, and often sent me into an allergy attack including watery eyes and abundant coughs.
Over the years, I’ve had many friends tell me about incredible restaurants inside certain casinos, or fun new experiences that I should try with my family. But I usually avoid them. Who wants to walk out of an incredible meal or a fun family activity only to smell like an ashtray?
With these memories in mind, we were recently asked to undertake a new project: the creation of a website for a coalition called Smoke Free Truckee Meadows. Their goal: to protect the health of all employees and guests in our region by passing laws to outlaw smoking in bars and casinos. While the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act ensures smoke-free air in many workplaces, smoking is still permitted in gaming areas of casinos, in strip clubs and in age-restricted stand-alone bars. This coalition is aiming to close that loophole.
And as I considered this charge, and because of my three decades of experience in marketing, one of the first thoughts to cross my mind: This would be an incredible, health-focused USP for our region.
A USP is a unique selling proposition, and it refers to the thing that distinguishes one brand from another. Often in marketing, we use USPs to strategize a brand’s messaging, because people need a reason to remember or choose your business/service over others. Therefore, what makes a company unique makes them memorable, and what makes them memorable may inspire business — if that memorable message resonates with the audience.
Why do people visit the Truckee Meadows? Research shows our visitors are predominantly coming for a diversity of experiences, which often includes outdoor recreation, arts or sporting events. According to the Reno Tahoe 2019 Visitor Profile Survey performed by EMC Research and commissioned by the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, our region’s visitors consider this “…a place where they can indulge in nature, arts, and entertainment. Reno’s visitors are increasingly younger and bringing their families, and most are gaming while they visit, at least casually.”
Reno is about more than gaming. Reno is becoming a lifestyle brand, one that is attracting a younger, more family-focused, more outdoor recreation-oriented audience. We still battle the stigma that we are a “little Las Vegas,” but we all know we track far more closely as a brand with the breathtaking Lake Tahoe than with the neon overload of The Strip. What better way to further distinguish us from other gaming destinations and attract a healthy audience than to offer a smoke-free gaming USP?
Our region has a tremendous opportunity to make smoke-free gaming our brand — and as it turns out, the timing has never been better. Never before has an entire region, state, nation and even WORLD been so focused on health — specifically, lung health. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all aware of pre-existing conditions, of ventilator usage statistics and even the cadence of our own breath.
Turns out, these are the exact same things that should be in focus when we consider secondhand smoke and its impact on people who do not make the choice to smoke. We have 40,000 people every day working in our region’s bars and casinos, being exposed to deadly substances that can deteriorate their own lung health, making them even more vulnerable to things like COVID-19. And at a time when unemployment is so high, some people need to stay in these jobs to keep their families afloat, to keep their homes or to put food on the table. A person should not have to sacrifice their own health just to earn a paycheck, but they do — here and in every business where smoking is allowed.
As a business owner, I’m faced with hundreds of choices daily about how to run my business, how to improve my community and what important initiatives to support. When I was asked to support Smoke Free Truckee Meadows, it was a no-brainer: My neighbors, and the people who visit my community and add to the vibrancy of our region, should not be exposed to toxins that could harm their lungs and make them more susceptible to contracting a devastating disease.
Further, according to the Washoe County Health District Public Health Supervisor, 85 percent of Washoe County residents do not smoke. This underscores the idea that with smoke-free gaming ordinances in place, perhaps more locals would visit these destinations, bringing in additional revenue sources. During a time when tourism has tanked due to the COVID pandemic, we should be looking for new and unique ways to attract audiences that have been previously overlooked. I know I would be far more likely to visit a casino with my family if I knew I wouldn’t have to power past the overwhelming smell and infuriating allergies.
Going smoke-free in all bars and casinos — now more than ever before — just makes sense. Smokers can still smoke — just away from our casino employees and guests. Please join us in this cause by exploring the new Smoke Free Truckee Meadows website to learn about secondhand smoke health impacts, myths, statistics and more, adding your name to our growing list on the Smoke Free Truckee Meadow's Show Your Support page, or sending a note to your local lawmaker.
Let’s better protect the health of people who are just doing their jobs or adding to the vibrancy of our region by visiting local bars and casinos. And let’s keep casinos open — and people as safe as possible.
This is a guest article by our friend, Edward Estipona, CEO of Estipona Group in Reno, Nevada.