Murphy wants permanent ban on casino smoking, lots of tobacco tax (Opinion)
Phil Murphy likes it both ways. It’s not disparaging. It’s just the truth. Most politicians like it both ways.
For years New Jersey casinos have been exempt under state law from the rules that ban smoking in bars and restaurants. Atlantic City law says smoking has to be no more than 25% of the gaming floor. But during the pandemic when any exhaling at all could have potentially carried the COVID-19 virus an executive order banned smoking in casinos 100%. That’s no longer the case come Sunday July 4. Smokers will be free to light up again inside casinos.
But Gov. Murphy isn’t a fan. There’s currently a measure in the legislature that would permanently ban smoking in casinos. When asked if he’d sign it, he stopped just short of affirmation to say, “I would be very constructive on that.”
That means yes. He will.
And that’s fine if he wants to be the knight who slays deadly tobacco use and saves every smoker he can by instituting such bans. He could check the column for looking out for the health of non-smoking casino dealers by getting rid of second-hand smoke.
But I find something puzzling.
Remember when he tried to raise New Jersey’s cigarette tax from $2.70 per pack by $1.65 to $4.35 per pack? $2.70 is already 10th highest in the nation. The legislature rejected it last year but this would have moved New Jersey among the highest states. He can claim it’s to stop people from smoking. Sure enough, anti-tobacco groups point to guesstimates that the hike would have meant 46,300 adults would quit smoking. So he can stick with that ‘I’m just trying to save these knuckleheads‘ lives’ narrative.
But consider the revenue. The State of New Jersey can talk a big game about advocating for people’s health. Yet money talks. And the cigarette tax is blood money Murphy happily accepts. Consider this line from a Politico article last February when his push for a tax hike was still in play.
“Cigarette tax revenues, representing around $611 million in the 2018 fiscal year, provided a critical financial lifeline to a state that frequently struggles with its balance sheet.”
So well over half a billion dollars rolls into the state from smokers and you really think he wants them to quit? I bet you when the anti-smoking groups guesstimated 46,300 smokers would quit if he got his increase Murphy’s crew was more focused on how many wouldn’t.
If Murphy truly wanted to save smokers from themselves he could be completely radical and ban the sale of cigarettes in New Jersey entirely and give up over $600 million a year. He’s not going to do that. He’s going to keep on taking that money while working those optics of caring so much. If it lands on his desk you bet he’ll permanently ban smoking in casinos. Right after he runs to the bank with another huge deposit.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.