Content warning: portions of this article deal with death, bigotry, politics, and religion.

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Business practices in Shreveport have a measurable effect on human health, and as Shreveport casinos again electrify their smoking signs, smoke signals are appearing on the horizon.

The pale sands, brown log, and red of the river contrast with the distant shape of a white riverboat casino. Red River in Shreveport, La. Image: Jaclyn Tripp.

There are the unwritten implications of the city’s formerly intact smoking-in-public-buildings ban and documentable health risks to patrons and employees.

Research shows businesses that intentionally market to smokers are attracting a particularly vulnerable demographic. A previous study has shown no correlation between smoking bans and profit margins in casinos, but there may be a correlation between societal views on smoking and tobacco’s earliest adoption by European culture.

Next, we come to some harsh realities surrounding the sin tax and the way some Americans are judged as less-than because of their addiction to cigarettes, while others are perceived as high-brow because of the cost associated with their cigars. We confront those harsh realities by understanding that a particular race was once publicly shamed because of their connection to tobacco, and in the process, we reveal how money speaks louder than even bigotry.

This article is designed to give you the facts you need to begin forming your own unique perception of the recent trimming of Shreveport’s Smoke-Free Air Act.

What you do with your opinion is on you.

The Smoke-Free Air Act

It was 2020, the year Covid-19 changed everything, and Shreveport, Louisiana’s city council tabled a repeal that would allow casinos in Shreveport to have indoor smoking. Thanks to the same council passing the Smoke-Free Air Act on Aug. 1, 2021, residents of the city were living in the 30%— as in the 30% of Louisiana communities where residents do not accidentally inhale tobacco smoke.

Inhaling secondhand tobacco smoke can cause serious health problems and such is easily greenlighted by businesses that believe indoor smoking bans harm profit margins.

On May 23, Shreveport’s City Council voted to roll back portions of the smoking ban in Shreveport that were related to casinos. After the vote that allowed smoking in casinos, only the fairly-new mayor had the power to veto the decision—but in doing so Tom Arceneaux would have risked alienating himself from members of the council.

The position Mayor Arceneaux was sitting in was envied by few.

The mayor’s opinion on the matter remained neutral in public. He neither vetoed nor approved, the council’s vote, which was the same thing as approving it—only not as simply stated.

But the backlash from taxpayers was frequent during this time period.

Here are but a few of the reasons why.

Smoking and casinos

The first casino in Shreveport dates to Apr. 18, 1994, when the first casino opened in north Louisiana to an invitation-only crowd. Located on the Shreveport side of the Red River, the Shreveport Rose was built to appear as though it were an 1800s paddlewheel boat. Capable of cocooning 1200 passengers within 20,000 square feet of gambling bliss, the casino welcomed smokers and few thought much of it.

Twenty-two states allow casino gambling, and four of those states (Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) allow smoking in casinos. But nine states have legislation that requires casinos to be smoke-free.

Scoot along the timeline from the opening of Shreveport’s first casino in 1994 to the state of Delaware in 2002. A Park Place Entertainment executive went against a smoke-free law at a New Jersey State Senate Health Committee hearing, on the grounds that such had a negative effect on revenue in Delaware.

But when regression analysis was used to gain an understanding from data acquired before and after the ban, no significant changes in post-smoking ban revenues were found.

The argument that smoking bans hurt casino revenues from gaming has since been rejected.

But there is a darker side to the smoking-in-casinos debate.

Smoking and poverty

Statistics show that men with higher incomes in the United States live around 15 years longer than men with lower incomes, and women with lower incomes live an average of ten fewer years than women who live high-income lifestyles. And one-third of the life expectancy gap between the poor and the rich has a very specific cause: smoking-related illnesses.

The statistics are ugly.

 72% of smokers in the United States are from lower-income communities.

Uninsured Americans are more than twice as likely to be smokers than insured Americans. People living in poverty smoke cigarettes more heavily and for twice as many years and those with an income three times higher than the poverty rate.

More than twice as many people who have regular feelings of anxiety smoke than those who aren’t riddled with anxiety.

More than twice as many people in public housing smoke than the rest of the American population.

States with the lowest cigarette prices have some of the highest smoking rates, and all of these states are physically bordered by one another—forming what some call the “tobacco nation.” These 12 states include Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma—the four states that comprise the ‘ArkLaTex’. And those living within the tobacco nation earn, on average, almost 21% less income than average citizens in the rest of the country.

Tobacco nation smokers inhale 500 more cigarettes a year than other Americans who smoke. And tobacco nation citizens die earlier than citizens in the rest of the United States. Twenty-three percent report frequent mental distress, compare to 13% of American citizens who do not live in tobacco nations.

Here is where things get tricky.

The above statistics add up to one almost invisible issue: businesses that purposefully attract smokers are marketing to a demographic of poverty- and anxiety-riddled, addiction-prone, uninsured Americans.

But there’s another angle to the smoking issue, and it’s in defense of smokers as individual people who have been promised equal rights and the freedom to make their own decisions so long as they obey laws.

Cigarette smoking and discrimination

One study proves that males in the United States who have had a stomach ache or a headache in response to discrimination have much higher odds of cigarette use than men who do not respond physically to discrimination.

But cigarette smoking and discrimination are nothing new. Society developed the habit of looking down on smokers in England in 1604.

Here’s how it happened.

The protestant reformation was well established, and the King of England (James) believed strongly in something called the divine right of kings.

“The State of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth: For Kings are not only God’s Lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called Gods,” said King James in a speech to Parliament in 1610.

The next year, King James published the “KJV” (King James Version) of the Bible for the first time. Here’s why. The mass production of the KJV brought one of the first English translations of the Bible into the homes and churches of both the educated and uneducated masses.

But King James was experienced in publishing religious materials before the KJV hit the market, though. Seven years before the KJV, he published a book called A Counterblaste to Tobacco. And in the book, King James referred to the smoking of tobacco as a “sin.”

Excerpts from the text make his opinions on smoking tobacco quite clear: “…what sinnes towards God, and foolish vanities before the world you commit, in the detestable use of it.”

It’s difficult for us to comprehend what a king believing himself to be a god could do psychologically and sociologically to a king and his subjects, but we must try.

“And now good Countrey men let us (I pray you) consider,” King James wrote in the Counterblaste, “what honour or policie can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly manners of the wild, godless, and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom?”

And there it is: the moment that discriminating based on race became a part of the culture surrounding tobacco use in England and her numerous colonies.

King James did not see the natives who lived in the “New World” as he saw himself or his countrymen. He saw them as inherently different. He saw their tobacco habits as unclean.

He described them as beastly, godless, and wild.

In the same year, the king published the counterblast, he also created something we now call a “sin tax.” These high taxes are still being charged on “sins” in modern-day America.

The sin tax

In 1604, King James imposed a 4,000% tax on tobacco to discourage its usage. But people addicted to tobacco continued to buy it despite the outrageous tax, and soon England morphed tobacco into a cash crop for the king’s American colonies.

Believe it or not, taxes can have positive effects on society. In the modern world, particularly in high-income countries, increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 10% reduces the demand for cigarettes by approximately 4%.

But back in the 1620s, the king’s harsh words against smokers of Native American tobacco were arriving on the shores of the Atlantic through religion, too. Some people in the colonies loved tobacco; others saw it as a sinful practice. All the while, tobacco’s massive profits were being made for the crown.

Viewing smoking as a sin did not end with King James’ death. According to the work of Benjamin M. Roy on the subject of mid-1800s tobacco usage, the silent standards regulating tobacco consumption in the United States were unspoken, amorphous, and perpetually evolving more than 200 years after King James’ opinions on tobacco permeated British society. Tobacco use in the mid-1800s “served as manifestations of prevailing discourses on gender, regionality, and race,” wrote Roy.

Modern-era “sin taxes”

The king’s 4000% tax on tobacco in 1600s England sounds like a thing of the past. But in modern society federal, state, and local governments still apply sin taxes to tobacco, alcohol, candies, soft drinks, coffee, sugar, fast foods, gambling, pornography, and more. And increasing these sin taxes, also called excise taxes, is an easy way for politicians to increase federal, state, and local income without getting much flack from citizens. After all—who wants to stand against a sin tax? One could easily be lamb-basted.

But just as psychology and even the positive effects of sin taxes exist, there is also a major downside to sin taxes. A vicious cycle is born in being poor, which increases the risk of being dependent, which is part of something called the poverty trap, which is the position most American smokers find themselves in—particularly in the tobacco nation.

Another stumbling block in the public’s lack of outcry against tobacco “sin taxes” is the demographic of smokers in the United States. Those in poverty have little free time to challenge high taxes. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking has become the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Americans. Nearly 500,000 people in the United States die of smoking-related illnesses each year, and in 2018 the nation lost $372 billion in productivity, and spent more than $240 billion on healthcare, because of smoking.

The society vs. smokers mentality

Louisiana collects an average of $575 a year in excise taxes per capita (person). That’s more than 76% of other states. But the higher the excise tax on tobacco, the less society smokes, so the math adds up to huge tax revenues and a small percentage of smokers not buying tobacco anymore.

The majority of those who buy tobacco, however, are poverty-stricken before they even reach the counter at the tobacco store. The more money they spend on cigarettes, the less money they have to buy basic necessities like food and medicine. And the less money they have for necessities, the more anxious they become. The more anxious they become, the more they smoke. The more they smoke, the more people judge them. And the more time we spend judging one another, the less time we have for finding actual solutions to the issues discussed within this article.

Smokers who know the poverty trap will understand it’s a terrible feeling to be ostracized and criticized by others. After all, we each have addictions to something. For some that addiction might be cigarettes. For others, food or even heroin.

Shaming smokers actually makes it less likely that they will quit smoking. Could the same be true of other addictions?

All people are worthy of finding release from their addictions and from the poverty trap—including smokers. All people are worthy of having the freedom to choose whether they want to smoke or not. All people are worthy of breathing clean air.

And nobody benefits from being shamed by or shaming others.