Smoking, buggy whips, and the future By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports November 21, 2021 at 8:00 pm In January 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States issued a report on smoking and public health. The report concluded that smoking was harmful to a smoker’s health. In that year, approximately 45 percent of the adult population smoked – 45 out of each 100 adults. The reported triggered a nearly 60-year long series of national, state, and local legislative reactions; the trend is likely to continue. The first reaction was a national law requiring a health warning on each package of cigarettes sold, followed by a law limiting advertising for cigarettes in print, on television or radio in 1969. The report inspired literally hundreds of state and local laws limiting smoking in public places. The first state was Minnesota with its Clean Air Act of 1975; in 2007, Minnesota updated its laws with the Freedom to Breathe Act. The law did carve out some exceptions, but for the most part, it limits smoking to a person’s private spaces. Only 12 states do not have any statewide legislation on smoking. But even in those states, many cities have passed local laws that forbid smoking in public buildings and workplaces. The initial legislation in jurisdictions permitted smoking in restaurants and bars, but in nearly all cases, those exceptions were later revoked. Depositphotos Nevada passed the Nevada Clean Air Act in 2006, which exempted the gaming floor of casinos, bars where minors are not allowed, strip clubs, and brothels. New Jersey, Indiana, and Pennsylvania’s laws also have some form of exemption for casinos. The movement to ban smoking in all indoor public buildings and businesses peaked at the beginning of the Great Recession; Illinois and Colorado were among the last states to ban smoking, including in casinos. That situation remained until the pandemic hit. Every state with casino gambling ordered all casinos to close in March 2020. Each state reopened on its own schedule based on the status of the virus there and the political environment. However, there was a common response: Most banned smoking in the reopened casinos. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for example, those bans remained in place for a year or more and it didn’t seem to matter. Regardless of the capacity restrictions, social distancing, masking, and smoking bans, casino revenues boomed everywhere. The booming revenues rejuvenated the anti-smoking lobbying. The movement had stalled during the recession when casinos were already struggling and banning smoking might have increased the financial hardship. Now there was evidence that forcing smokers to go outside for nicotine hit did not hurt casino gambling. Atlantic City has become ground zero for the battle. In September, the clear winner appeared to be the anti forces. Governor Phil Murphy expressed his willingness to sign the legislation when it reached his desk. Then came the election and he was nearly unseated. Now a ban seems to be a priority neither for him nor the president of the state senate, Steve Sweeney. Sweeney was not as lucky as the governor in the vote. He lost. But in the lame-duck session until his successor is sworn in, Sweeney retains his power. He demonstrated that most recently on November 18. When the anti-smokers contacted him, Sweeney said he did not know when, if ever, during the lame-duck session the subject might be addressed. And, of course, he will not be in charge in 2022. Everyone is a little annoyed at and disappointed by Sweeney’s response. Going into the election, the probability of a total smoking ban in the casinos in Atlantic City was felt to be very high. Now, who knows? November 18 was a day heavily laden with meaning. It was The Great American Smokeout day. The Great American Smokeout was created 40 years ago by the American Cancer Society. Smokers are encouraged to stop smoking for that one day, the third Thursday in November. With the confidence gained by 24 hours without a cigarette, the hope is that smokers will give up cigarettes for good. The campaign is working and, along with the health warnings, the absence of advertising, and the ever-growing limit on the places to pursue the vice, the percentage of the population that still smokes has dropped to 14 percent. There is one more little wrinkle to the tobacco tale. Smokers are resentful. Smokers have long claimed that smoking is an individual liberty and do-gooders should not be able to infringe on that right. The counter argument holds that smoking in enclosed spaces creates a hazard to the non-smokers who inhale the foul air, suffused with secondhand smoke. That group also includes some casino employees who feel they’re being punished for a private behavior. Recently, 1,500 smoking workers employed by Penn Nation sued, claiming the company discriminates against them. They are charged an extra $50 a month on their healthcare premiums that other workers do not have to pay. After 57 years, there are still smokers and businesses that believe their profits depend on allowing people to smoke. However, both groups are shrinking. The number of businesses, including restaurants and bars that allow smoking, has dwindled since Minnesota first attempted to clean its air. Except in those 12 states, there are few places where a trade can be plied amidst cigarette smoke. Even more significantly, smokers are disappearing. The approximately 28 million smokers in 2021 are down from 42 million in 1964, while the population has grown from 197 million in 1964 to 332 million in 2021. Catering to smokers in 1964 made good economic sense, not so much in 2021. Casinos, along with some bars, strip clubs, and brothels, are among the last bastions of the belief that smoking is good for business. It will take time, but from this vantage point at the end of 2021, smoking is a dying habit. At least from my perspective, all of my friends and relatives who did not give up their cigarettes are now dead. Even Nevada will come, eventually, to realize that it is time to stop selling buggy whips and embrace horseless carriages and the future.