"Your mother and I don't want you sneaking around smoking, so if you're going to smoke, smoke, but don't hide it." That fatherly permission/command came when I was in the fifth grade! Today it would merit a call to Children's Protective Services. Then, it was just two parents, both smokers, doing the best they knew to help their child navigate life. As a result, there was no rebellion and no need to smoke.
If my parents' permissiveness was a bit nontraditional, the current campaign against smoking is straight out of the 19th century. When our (Texas) Attorney General states, apparently in all seriousness, that "history will record the modern-day tobacco industry alongside the worst of civilization's evil empires" and a book reviewer in the New York Times tells us that tobacco firms are "the most criminal, disgusting, sadistic, degenerate group of people on the face of the earth," I can hear echoes of Carrie Nation's tirades on demon rum and see clearly her ax smashing barrels while the whiskey ran into the thirsty earth. Today's anti-smoking crusade is the left's take on the right's call to return to the old morality.
George Orwell, in observing the practices of Communism, warned us in the 1940s about the danger of the political use of language to redefine reality. Smoking is now defined by some as "a pediatric disease" and a "public health menace," to which one medical professor commented, "Formerly, the state, drunk with religion, persecuted people with bad religious habits; today, drunk with medicine, it persecutes people with bad medical habits." Redefined is President Franklin Roosevelt, whose new statue in Washington speaks without his signature piece: a long cigarette holder. Another interesting change in language is the substitution of kill for die, as the shift from "Smokers die of lung cancer" to "Smoking kills."
Well, so do Big Macs and ice cream (the fat), and motorcycles (16 times more fatal than driving a car). With a little imagination, there is little that we couldn't define as a public health menace (actually, even life itself) and, for the good of individuals, make illegal.
I am not an apologist for tobacco. I like meetings in which the air is not blue with smoke, motel rooms that smell fresh, and restaurants in which I am not enveloped in smell and smoke. Not a smoker, cigarette's disappearance from store shelves would not bother me a bit. With a knowledge of past religious crusades, though, I am always leery when people want to control the private thoughts or behavior of others, even unhealthy behavior. Hard fought individual liberties ought not be relinquished in a puff of smoke.
And, once cigarettes are out of the way,
who knows. The moral/medical police will most certainly refocus
their for-your-own-good eye on other unhealthy evils. Perhaps
Carrie Nation redux!
--Robert H. Tucker
20 April 1998