May 29, 2020
by J. Glynn Loope, Executive Director of CRA
As the premium cigar industry confronts a different day due to the virus pandemic, with canceled trade shows, as well as local, regional and national cigar events, once again, our opponents are creeping up behind us to use a national crisis, to advance their prohibitionist agenda. It's happening from small communities in Indiana, to the southern tip of Louisiana. For the industry's (from manufacturer to consumer) direct interests however, the new front line in this battle is Las Vegas, Nevada.
Las Vegas is the Holy Ground of cigar freedom in the United States. Making the pilgrimage to Casa Fuente, and then the cigar bar and lounge circuit where you can spend hours with friends, then go to the next one, is for many among the most anticipated times of the year. The Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke Vegas is such a tradition, that many from literally around the world plan their vacations and travel a year in advance, in order to participate with their like-minded brethren.
Then there are the trade shows. Between the trade shows of the Premium Cigar Association ("PCA") and Tobacco Plus Expo, thousands of Vegas room nights are occupied, providing direct and significant benefits for restaurants, bars and performances to a city that has recently, been brought to the brink of economic armageddon.
While I really don't enjoy quoting former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his statement "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you think could not be done before," is exactly what opponents are doing now in Las Vegas, and in other parts of the country.
As Las Vegas has been developing its strategies for reopening, placing restrictions on smoking has been at the forefront of the new wave of thinking. The non-profit health care organizations, labor unions and the media have been promoting a smoke-free Vegas, since the beginning of this crisis (and before.) When letters to the editor from citizens are quoting CDC and WHO statistics, someone else is behind it.
If there is one body of evidence on the detrimental economic impact of smoking bans, it's with the gaming industry. Objective studies have been produced by none other than the United States Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis addressing the loss of revenue for Illinois casinos, producing a report "No Ifs Ands or Butts: Illinois Casinos Lost Revenue After Smoking Banned," where they stated "as policy makers in Illinois and elsewhere ponder the implications of the Illinois smoking ban, the impact on revenue, attendance and taxes, should not be ignored." I have spoken to one of the report's authors, Dr. Michael Pakko on his studies on the economic consequences of smoking bans from Delaware to California, and he told me of how he is only allowed to use standard government statistics in his reports. No tobacco money.
The Harrah's casino in New Orleans almost immediately lost $70 million and cut hundreds of jobs in the wake of the New Orleans City Council passage of their sweeping smoking ban (making it no accident that the current ban proposal in Shreveport exempts casinos) then there was the flip-flopping on smoking restrictions in Atlantic City casinos, and the former Trump Casino, now the Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana noted to their local government that a smoking ban would eliminate 400 jobs.
In a letter to the FDA opposing regulations that could harm the premium cigar industry, Mr. Trevor Scherrer, President of The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas stated that "this one event," the Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke has a "$6,625,000 nongaming economic impact on our community." And that's just for one weekend. Let's hope we don't have to begin discussing specific exemptions, to protect such events as Big Smoke and trade shows.
When CRA awarded former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman an Honorary Lifetime Membership for his opposition to a local or statewide smoking ban he told me, "If they pass it, they'll lose their shirts." Let's hope his wife, the current mayor, recognizes that.
NOW is the time to get in front of a potentially disastrous situation. NOW is the time to meet with the American Gaming Association, Nevada Resorts Association, Nevada Gaming Control Board, Las Vegas City Council and Mayor Carolyn Goodman. NOW is the time to meet and communicate with Governor Steve Sisolak and members of the Nevada legislature, where such issues will be decided. NOW, is the time for the CRA, PCA, CAA, and NATO to unify to protect what could be, the cigar industry's Alamo.
We will be amassing a library of the economic evidence needed for this effort. CRA will also begin a strategy to have our local and state members reach out to decision makers, as this issue continues to crystallize. That, is just the beginning.