Marantz Rantz: New Jersey gets dealt a bad hand

How many businesses will be left standing when the smoke clears?

By Adam Marantz | Feb - March 2006

In 1968, President Richard Nixon coined the term, “war on drugs.” In 2001, George W. Bush introduced us to “the war on terror.” Most recently, Bill O’Reilly, the face of the “Fox News Channel,” gave us “the war on Christmas.”

Maybe we have overexerted ourselves physically and metaphorically in producing wars in this country—especially wars we can’t possibly win. But if I may, I’d like to introduce a new crusade: “the war on cigarettes.”

I offer my home state of New Jersey, which in April will become the eleventh state to pass legislation in support of a statewide indoor smoking ban.

Now, being a smoker from California, one of the other 10 aforementioned states with such a policy, I have no problem excusing myself from a bar or restaurant to get my nicotine fix.

But, business owners should be able to regulate their own policies regarding smoking since it is so detrimental to their financial stability.

Case in point: Hennepin County in Minnesota, where last March, smoking was banned in public areas. On the heels of this ban, bars in Minneapolis, the hub of Hennepin County, experienced a serious economic bust.

One bar owner said the day that the ban went into effect his business lost 30 percent of its customer base. In the following weeks, 35 bars went out of business in Minneapolis, amounting to one every 11 days since the ban was put in place.

Since this legislation and the county’s impending financial collapse, the ban has been rolled back to exclude businesses that obtain 50 percent of revenue from liquor sales.

Given certain health-related concerns, I wouldn’t scoff at a business prohibiting me from smoking in its premises.

Recently, an “American Heart Association” study tested 51 public establishments in the Garden State. The establishments that allowed smoking were 15 times more polluted than the ones that did not. The study also found that employees in the 43 smoking locations were exposed to air pollution much greater than the statutes set by the “Environmental Protection Agency.” The eight places that prohibit smoking were all below the limits.

On Jan. 13, 2005 nearly 20 exotic dancers protested the new smoking law outside of the Statehouse in Trenton. The adult entertainers had signs saying “Our Freedom is up in Smoke” and gave speeches, claiming that most of the dancers are willing to accept the risk in order to dance.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey, who signed the bill into law on Jan. 15, said that he is protecting those girls from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“I’m doing this to protect these women and almost everybody who works in a place where there’s heavy smoke,” Codey said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to one of those establishments, I can assure you, but smoke is heavy without question, and they have a right to be protected.”

But government has no business regulating such standards, especially when lawmakers are notoriously partial to certain business owners, giving them a free ride on this issue.

Just when it seemed New Jersey would shed its corrupt political history behind, acting Gov. Richard Codey, the supposed phoenix of fair politics in New Jersey, announced a bombshell—casinos in Atlantic City will be exempt from the ban because of some “political realities.”

Maybe there are some political realities to Atlantic City funding and buying elections. Giving them a pass on an issue like this doesn’t only jeopardize the health of casino patrons and employees, but it jeopardizes the financial stability of other local businesses amid the cash cow casinos.

Most pub and bar owners in Atlantic City are worried that they will lose upwards of 80 percent of their business if they are not allowed to permit smoking and neighboring casinos are.

In an article from the “Press of Atlantic City,” Irish pub owner Cathy Burke said, “This is the stake through our heart, without a doubt.”

Burke alluded to the casino industry’s stranglehold on politics and its contribution to deteriorating other business outlets in the city. Burke said that the casinos were supposed to revitalize other industries, but they have actually done the opposite.

“I’ve had to compete with free food, with free liquor, and I have to sell my product far below market value,” Burke claimed. “By imposing a smoking ban at my establishment, I will be out of business.”

In the instance of Minneapolis, smokers had no choice but to refrain from smoking in public places.

But if New Jersey were to pass this ban and exempt casinos, Atlantic City bars would be worse off than Minneapolis ones, and ultimately they’ll be run out of business faster.

Gov. Elect Jon Corzine takes office later this month. A former businessman in investment funds, Corzine has friends in very high places in Atlantic City, like “Sands” owner, Carl Icahn. According to “Atlantic City Weekly,” a month before declaring his candidacy for governor, Corzine invested $7 million into Icahn Partners LP, a hedge fund controlled by Icahn.

Corzine has publicly endorsed the indoor smoking ban and said on his campaign trail, “I would review the casino issue just to make sure that it isn’t going to impact, overly, the competitive situation of Atlantic City.”

The drawback of capitalism is the more money you gain; the more power you acquire. The twisted New Jersey smoking ban is a glaring illustration of that hypocrisy in American democracy.

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