Thursday, April 13, 2006

Architect of New Jersey Smoking Ban Admits that Ban Supporters Cowered Down to Economic Interests of Casino Industry

In an interview with ABC News, former New Jersey acting Governor Richard Codey defended the exemption of casinos from the recently-implemented state smoking ban by arguing that it is acceptable to give political favors to influential industries.

According to Codey: "I don't think it's really any different than when you have, for example, a Boeing company in Washington, and legislators who are always trying to help that industry, the airplane industry, because it's a large employer within their state."

Codey defended the ban against complaints by some bars and strip clubs that they would lose business due to the loss of smoking customers: "Where else are the customers going to go? You just have no place to go unless you want to stay at home and have your wife provide that entertainment for you."

The article explains that the health of 50,000 casino workers is compromised by the legislation, which fails to afford them the same protection it provides to bar and restaurant workers in the state.

The article concludes: "But no matter how you try to explain it, tens of thousands of casino employees -— and millions of tourists -— were essentially told by state politicians that their health ain't worth craps."

The Rest of the Story

This story confirms what I suggested in an earlier commentary on the New Jersey smoking ban: this is not a rational public health piece of legislation. It is simply an example of both health groups and politicians cowering down to appease a powerful lobby for purely political reasons.

And the real losers here are the thousands of casino workers who now have to continue suffering the devastating health effects of their exposure to tobacco smoke in their places of employment. And most likely, the exposure will be even higher, as smokers shift from local bars where they can't smoke into the casinos where they can.

Codey has now admitted that the measure was a purely political one and that it was simply a case of politicians cowering down to a powerful political lobby.

What is appalling, however, is the fact that he defends the bill on this basis. Apparently, he sees nothing wrong with doing that.

It appears that in his view, it is perfectly acceptable for powerful political lobbying groups to dictate the health of citizens in his state. I don't know about you, but I don't what purely political interests determining my health. And I don't want my elected officials to cower down to big business and compromise my health because of it. If they're not willing to stand up to big business to protect health, then sit down - somewhere other than the legislative chambers.

While Codey has a response to the concerns of bar and strip club owners that the ban will cost them business ("No it won't because where else are people going to go to drink and to see naked women"), apparently the same argument does not apply to casinos ("Where else are people going to go to gamble?") This is classic politician double-speak and hypocrisy.

What I find most disappointing, however, is not the attitude of these policiticians. I have come to expect this type of attitude and behavior from them. What is most disappointing to me is the fact that the New Jersey health groups were behind the politicians all the way. They supported the compromise; they participated in the cowering down to the casino lobby.

Even the somewhat radical national anti-smoking group that I have criticized for its inappropriate aggressiveness - Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) - cowered down to these powerful political interests, going so far as completely misleading its constituents into thinking that the measure protected casino workers.

Sure - anti-smoking groups are busy at work now trying to amend the just-enacted bill to strengthen it to include casinos. But that's going to be far more difficult than it would have been to simply insist on a level playing field to begin with.

If the politicians are going to make these compromises, fine, we may have to live with it. But there's no reason why public health groups should compromise the public's health.

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