Can online gambling be compared to smoking?

After a recent EU recommendation, it is reported that gambling ads may soon carry the same health warnings as cigarette packets in the UK. Whilst gambling can be an addictive issue, can it really be compared to smoking?

The message from the European Commission doesn’t only apply to the UK, as they are encouraging countries across the continent to demand that all online gambling adverts carry health warnings and messages similar to those displayed on cigarette packets.

The idea behind it is to prevent or reduce the number of compulsive gamblers. It’s not a new proposal either, as in countries such as France, this process has already been adopted, with messages displayed on all igaming websites and advertising.

Despite the recommendation not being legally binding, the hope is that it will prompt EU countries to tighten advertising rules and increase controls on the multi-billion Euro online gambling industry.

Some of the things being urged to feature on advertisements include assistance for compulsive gambling problems, the odds of winning vs losing and the risks of becoming a gambling addict.

But can gambling really be seen as something comparable to smoking?

On the one hand there are quite a few similarities, such as both being perfectly legal things that people can become highly addicted to. As with any addictions, there are programmes in place to help people overcome their habits.

Another way in which gambling and smoking are similar is that it is a costly hobby or habit. Cigarettes can be around £10 a packet whereas there is often no reasonable limit to how much an addict will spend on gambling. Of course although a costly habit, there are vast differences in the way and amount that’s spent via gambling as opposed to cigarettes.

Once you have purchased your cigarettes, you have your temporary fix, until you run out and need to buy another fix. This isn’t how gambling addiction works, as once the first bet is made, there is no guarantee how many more wagers will be made in that one go. Often, when gamblers are down on their luck, they will keep spending inappropriate amounts until they reach some sort of win.

Another difference is the constant access to online gambling to feed addiction, which isn’t necessarily true of smoking. If you run out of cigarettes and have no access to any more, you won’t be able to get your fix. Similarly if you find yourself in a no-smoking area, especially for a prolonged period like a train journey, you can’t get your fix, whereas online gambling is accessible from our pockets virtually any time of the day thanks to advances in mobile technology. In a way this makes it arguable that online gambling is actually a more threatening and dangerous addiction than smoking.

Of course most will argue the opposite and will say that the two can’t be comparable, as smoking has much more detrimental effects in terms of health of not only the person addicted, but those around them too. Health warnings on cigarette packets warn about the effects on your lungs, risk of cancer and statistics about the damage you can do to yourself and others.

In this sense, warnings on gambling sites and advertisements can’t really be compared. Although it’s a serious issue and can affect you mentally, you won’t need an organ transplant or suffer from cancer due to gambling. Nor will you be damaging the health of others around you.

So in the sense that gambling and smoking are both legal addictions which must be treated and tackled, then yes the two can be compared. But in the terms of damage done either to health or to finances, the two addictions are very different and must be treated so.

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