Devil Weed: Pondering the Whole Antismoking Crusade


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I'm of two minds on the whole antismoking crusade. On the one hand, I've been enjoying sense-deranging substances of every shape, size and description since 1968 regardless of legal status, with no ill effects whatsoever except a really interesting bout with amphetamine psychosis back in the early 70s. So it kind of amuses me to see otherwise law-abiding citizens being treated like common criminals because of a perfectly legal drug they happen to enjoy. The forces of tobacco prohibition have managed to persuade quite a few tobacco enthusiasts to begin thinking about the absurdity of marijuana prohibition in particular, which is a good thing.


On the other hand, I smoke like a train, and I am disinclined to patronize business establishments where it is prohibited. The prissy, self-righteous attitude of the antismoking contingent is sufficient to make me want to blow smoke in their faces. They are the very embodiment off the Nanny State, worse even than the gun control jerks.


I used to go to the movies a lot, back when they had smoking sections. The movies were great fun in the 70s, when people were lighting up joints everywhere. Then came the 80s, and Reagan, and the New Puritanism. It's pretty funny how a guy who blew so much hot air complaining about "big government" and promising to get the government off our backs throttled up the Orwellian "War on Drugs" and promoted so much government interference in people's private lives that it became damn near impossible for anyone to mind his or her own business.


I've always suspected that the attack on cigarette smoking in public places had more to do with suppressing the laissez-faire attitude toward pot smoking that surfaced in the 70s than any kind of real effort to eradicate tobacco. It's much more difficult to fire up a doob in a theater or a stadium if it's illegal to fire up anything at all. Be that as it may, I pretty much stopped going to the movies owing to the smoking ban. I used to go two or three times a month. Now I go maybe two or three times a year.


There was no such thing as "air rage" until the airlines banned smoking. I love the way the airlines first banned smoking on the precept that airplanes are not ventilated well enough to allow it, and then completely reversed their position on the ventilation issue when the flight attendants sued claiming they were suffering an abnormal rate of respiratory infections. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with jet fuel, the stench of which on most flights at takeoff is sufficient to offer a brief respite against the flatulence, body odor and cheap colognes of the teeming masses on board.


I don't linger in restaurants anymore. Not ordering dessert has done wonders for my waistline, and I wonder what it's done to the bottom lines of many of the eating establishments around town. Every smoker I know needs one right after a good meal. I'm not going to stand outside like some pariah. If I have to leave to smoke, I just pay the bill and leave: I get my after dinner drinks in a bar somewhere, where I can smoke. I'm sure this is having an economic impact.


I was living in San Francisco when the Body Nazis initiated this latest wave of antismoking hysteria. That was in 1985. I've been trying to find the statistics on noncontagious respiratory illnesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, to no avail. Since they've had these stupid antismoking regulations in place for 16 years now, I thought there might be some evidence one way or the other as to just how effective the ban has been, but these stats are eluding me for some reason. You'd think the antismoking forces would be plastering them on billboards from sea to shining sea, to show America how effective these regulations are in protecting public health, but it just isn't happening.


Peter Vallone and Stanley Michels are currently pushing the City Council to widen the smoking ban to include some bars, and all city-owned vehicles; they want to further tighten the restrictions on private offices, as well. They banned smoking in the bars in California a few years ago, and guess what? Nobody cares. They all cheat on it. It's just one more in a long and seemingly ever-growing list of idiotic and unenforceable laws that the public simply ignores. All it served to do was to further erode respect for the law in general. That's what stupid laws do.


Assemblyman Alexander Grannis wants to prohibit smoking on beaches and in parks. Grannis' proposal is so ludicrous, I had to look around and see if there was any open resistance to it.


That's how I met Audrey Silk. Audrey Silk is a cop, 17 years on the force, a veteran of Crown Heights and the Crack Wars. Petite but muscular, she sort of resembles Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. She's a real American, complete with the Heinz 57 ethnic background and the classic "live and let live" attitude. She started CLASH, Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, as a response to the various bullshit busybodies trying to get tobacco listed as a Schedule 1 illegal substance.


We got together in Brooklyn Heights for a few drinks and some food at a little bar that still allows smoking. The Irish bartender overheard us talking about the tobacco issue and commented that the antismoking campaign has all the earmarks of a classic American cult. "It's a crock of shit," he opined.


"It's bad science," she says. "In July of '98, the World Health Organization officially accepted a report they'd commissioned by the International Agency for Research of Cancer, the IARC. The IARC conducted a study involving 12 medical research centers in seven European countries. They compared 650 lung cancer patients with 1542 healthy people. They examined people who worked with smokers, lived with smokers, lived and worked with smokers, grew up with smokers, and the study found no health risk from secondhand smoke.


"Grannis says the issue with the beaches and the parks is the butts. I worked the beaches when I was a kid, the beach gets raked clean every day in the summer. He's talking about a litter issue. We already have litter laws."


I mentioned that I've started ordering my cigarettes from an Indian reservation. I'm getting my American Spirits for $2.90 per pack. Cigarette smuggling is rapidly becoming a worthwhile endeavor for certain organized crime elements. This has happened before, in exactly the same pattern, with opium, cocaine and marijuana. I asked Audrey if she knew of any funding connections between the big pharmaceutical firms peddling smoking cessation aids and these prohibitionist groups lobbying for more and more laws.


"No," she replied. "But I haven't really looked. We're just getting started. People are fed up. Most people are content with limiting smoking in restaurants and in the workplace. Ninety-five percent of the eating establishments in the city offer completely smoke-free dining. Now the fanatics are going for that last 5 percent, and the beaches and the parks, too. The backlash is starting. Most people, including nonsmokers, think that this has gone far enough."


The CLASH website (at www.nycclash.com) has a lot of interesting information regarding the various studies regarding secondhand smoke, and Audrey is contemplating organizing a few "smoke-ins" in the near future. This has the makings of an interesting brawl.


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