Tobacco Irony

Update: The eye doc said I’m not any blinder than I was before I scratched my cornea. He reduced the drops from every two hours to three times a day. Tomorrow I can wear my contact lenses again. It will be a blessed relief not to walk around with a halo distortion around lights and fuzz where lines are supposed to be. If you want a look at my world without lenses, check out the changing picture at the top of the site for the National Keratoconus Foundation.

This entry was supposed to go last week when a state legislative committee voted to ban smoking at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun. The supporters of the ban say that the tribes agreed to comply with state health laws when they signed the compact that allowed the casinos to operate in exchange for a cut of the revenue from the slot machines. The ban would protect the workers from second-hand smoke and is supported by the union that represents many of the employees.

The tribes say that the ban infringes on their sovereignty and that it would violate the compact. That violation constitutes a breach of contract that would allow them to withhold millions of dollars in slot revenues.

I sympathize with the workers. Being around second-hand smoke is disgusting and dangerous. On the rare occasions when I’ve been at either casino I’ve run for the smoke free areas. (See Bobblehead Fingers. Is there any significance to the name Hall of Lost Tribes for the smoke-free area?) I’m also a member of the UAW, which represents some of the workers. The union supports the ban as well.

In this case I have to come down against the workers, even my fellow union members. I agree with the Pequots and the Mohegans. If tribal sovereignty doesn’t mean the right to decide what happens in one’s own house, then what does it mean? That house may be commercial space, but it’s also foreign territory just as much as Mexico, or Canada, or the United Nations. The U.S. government and its various subsections have taken every opportunity to erode the rights of Native Americans since the colonizers wrote and broke the first treaty hundreds of years ago. It would be great if the tribes made the casinos smoke free on their own, but the state should not be able to force the rule down their throats.

The irony here is that this fight is about a product that the tribes used as part of a sacred ritual. They regarded tobacco as a gift of the creator. It was to be treated with reverence. The colonizers seized it, planted it in huge quantities to make money, and abused it. Over the course of three centuries it went from ceremonial object to glamorous habit to vile addiction. And it’s still making money for the companies and the government.

Aside from the constitutional issue, the state can ill afford to lose the slot revenues. Foxwoods and the Sun kept eastern Connecticut alive after the Soviet Union collapsed and the country no longer needed all those expensive weapons that came out of Groton. The casinos provided jobs, tourists, and a substantial infusion of cash to the state. Of course the revenues have declined some, along with the rest of the economy, but the tribes still put $400 million annually into the state budget.

If the state goes through the ban, that money will be lost. There is also the prospect of huge costs from a long and expensive court fight. I don’t want my tax dollars spent that way.

Regardless of the fact that fewer and fewer people smoke, it looks like the ban is not popular with the state’s residents. Three-quarters of the people who took a Hartford Courant poll agreed with me and opposed the ban.

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