On October 30, 2014 at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), in association with the Boston Alliance for Community Health (BACH), hosted a forum focusing on common tactics and strategies of two predatory industries: tobacco and casino gambling. It featured Northeastern University Distinguished Professor Richard Daynard, David Aronstein, Director of BACH, and PHAI’s Executive Director Mark Gottlieb. The featured speaker was PHAI’s Senior Staff Attorney Lissy Friedman, who presented powerful evidence demonstrating eerie similarities between the two industries.
The forum was especially timely in Massachusetts as voters there are about to weigh in on a first-in-the-nation ballot initiative to repeal the legalization of casinos in the state.
The proceedings were recorded and are presented here:
The Public Health Advocacy Institute has filed an amicus curiae brief in an appeal pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Plaintiff/Appellants are seeking to reverse a decision of the attorney general and get a question certified for inclusion on the 2014 ballot to repeal a law legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts. The case is Steven P. Abdow et al., v. Attorney General, et al., No. SJC-11641.
Legalized casino gambling causes devastating effects on the public’s health, including not only the gambler but also their families, neighbors, communities and others with whom they interact. Massachusetts voters should not be denied the opportunity to be heard directly on the question of whether to invite a predatory and toxic industry to do business in the Commonwealth.
The harm caused by the tobacco industry’s products has been the archetype of a commercial threat to public health, and in considering the introduction of gambling industry casinos into Massachusetts, much can be learned from the object lesson of considering the tobacco industry as a disease vector. The predatory gambling industry shares much in common with the tobacco industry.
Some examples of the similarities are:
Casinos employ electronic gambling machines that are designed to addict their customers in a way that is similar to how the tobacco industry formulates its cigarettes to be addictive by manipulating their nicotine levels and other ingredients.
Mirroring the tobacco industry’s strategy of creating scientific doubt where none truly exists, the casino industry has co-opted and corrupted scholarship on the effects of gambling through the use of front groups that funnel money to beholden scientists who are able to sanitize its origin.
Borrowing another tobacco industry technique of shaping the debate around its products, by creating a misleading lexicon and using euphemisms, the casino industry has tried to influence debate, deflect criticism and mislead the public about its role as a disease vector.
By employing personal and corporate responsibility rhetoric honed by the tobacco industry, the casino industry hopes to gain and maintain social acceptability and stave off litigation, regulation and citizen-driven activism.
Both the tobacco and casino industries profit from preying upon society’s most vulnerable members, acting as disease vectors which adversely affect the physical, emotional and social health of the individual users and the communities where use of the products is prevalent.
The brief declares that the voters of the Commonwealth should be allowed to act on their own behalf in expressing an opinion of this type of predatory behavior. The power of the citizen ballot initiative is the ultimate in personal responsibility, agency and self-determination. Therefore, PHAI asks the court to compel the attorney general to certify the Plaintiffs’/Appellants’ petition and allow the repeal measure to be included on the 2014 ballot.