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May, 2008

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Gambling with Regulations

Atlantic City is the USA’s second-largest gambling capital after Las Vegas. It resides in a colder climate than its more famous sister city of sin and has a far less prestigious reputation, but “AC” has been a facilitator of legal gambling entertainment aimed at grown-ups for the past 30 years. Now, the Atlantic City government feels - despite the advances in air-circulation technology, which allow smokers and non-smokers to exist in harmony - the need to tell full-grown adults (and in the case of AC, much older adults) that they are not allowed to smoke a cigarette or cigar while they donate their savings to casino coffers. The city counsel recently passed a bill banning smoking on all casino floors. In an attempt to help the casinos make the transition (where there are forecasts of a 20% loss in business and the possible loss of 3,500 jobs in the gambling-dependent economy), the new regulations will allow for smoking lounges built away from any gambling halls or slot machines. So, smoking is still acceptable - you just can’t light up while losing your money.

This recent ban, of course - as is the case with most public smoking regulation in the West - is passed under the idea that smoking anywhere creates a dangerous work environment for employees. One wonders if several thousand employees of said casinos would rather work in a properly air-filtered environment (especially with a lucrative, consumer-oriented business that could easily afford such amenities) or not work at all. While it would be a losing battle on various fronts to insist that adults must be able to smoke wherever they want, it is a growing shame that adults are not allowed to smoke in facilities specifically built for adults.

A large part of Atlantic City patrons travel from the nearby state of New York, which recently levied an additional US$1.25/pack tax. This will bring the cost of a pack in New York City (which itself has some of the nation’s highest local cigarette taxes) to US$9.00, by far the highest in the nation (basically the equivalent of an average-priced take-out lunch). This levy may cut down on smoking, but it will not stop people from lighting up. People like to smoke. Instead this hike will (as past experience has shown) have several consumers looking to buy counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes easily accessible on city streets and even in local shops. According to a recent report from New York state’s own Department of Taxation and Finance, some of this black-market money has gone to fund many of America’s enemies, namely Al Qaeda and Hezbollah (which, in one case, received US$100,000 from counterfeit smokes sold on the streets of New York City). It would be a losing (not to mention, bad) argument to say that higher taxes ultimately lead to terrorism. However, there are always unforeseen consequences whenever there is government involvement in the private market. So, as governments large and small make moves to curb what they see as a bad habit taken on by adults, who knows what unforeseen consequences may lie ahead?

- Evan D. Dashevsky


Tobacco International - May, 2008

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