Thank You for Smoking

John J. Hopkins Jan. 26, 2008, 8:30am


"Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Every one has a talent."

This delightfully amoral line is from the little satirical gem, "Thank You for Smoking," the film that finds a way to have you actually like the tobacco industry, at least their paid spin meisters.

The movie deals with the exploits of Nick Naylor, the 30-something star lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, an obvious industry front group. The film is a personal favorite, and is today's movie metaphor.

Together with the other members of the MOD squad (Masters Of Death, lobbyists for the gun and alcohol industries), Naylor spins his charms before Congress and the media in such a winning fashion that you cannot help but fall under his spell, only to realize the import of his comments long after his departure.

While primarily a brazen satire of corporate greed and the pursuit of personal wealth at all costs, at it's core it is a message about freedom - personal freedom - without the oppressive hand of Big Brother (or Sister) stepping in to muck up the works.

Personal freedom, the ability to just be left alone without the interference of the government, took a big hit in the state of Illinois on Jan. 2, 2008. Driven by a misguided desire to protect employees freely working at their place of choice, duped by the pseudo science claiming the alleged harmful effects of second hand smoke, and mostly dominated by the insatiable hunger to tell fellow citizens how to live, the Legislature, apparently not having anything better to do, has now decreed that adults no longer have the right to smoke in public places.

Now, to put the cards on the table, I am a smoker. Not reformed, but current. The sensual pleasures of a fine cigar accompanying a glass of Irish whiskey in a wooden paneled hide out, or on a summer's evening with a cool glass of wine is one of life's true gifts, another element of proof in the Divine.

I also enjoy a puff or two on a Marlboro while drinking down a cold frosty Budweiser at Fast Eddie's, elbow-to-elbow with my nicotine brethren. But alas, the fun police have called a halt to such indulgences.

The Libertarian philosophy, the short version any way, succinctly states that every man has the right to go to Hell in his own way, without the annoying interference of the government, be it local, state or federal. As long as no one else is forced along, every adult - and that is a key element, the age of at least legal maturity - should be allowed to basically do what ever they so please.

This would oppose by implication all laws that restrict the rights of Man - seat belt laws, helmet laws, and indeed, smoking bans in public establishments. Now that my children are grown and out of the house, I can come out the closet and let my freak flag fly' and endorse such a way of life.

Everybody knows the potential for harm to the INDIVIDUAL smoker, the key phrase being the INDIVIDUAL. It is a matter of personal choice, to smoke and more importantly, to patronize an establishment that permits smoking.

The dubious basis for the new ban is the ostensible protection to the bartenders, barmaids and waitresses, who voluntarily choose to work under the smoky cloud. Armed with the untested, unproven and unverified data regarding the alleged dangers from exposure to second hand smoke, the seeing eyes of Momma Oprah have taken away the choice of where to associate, in all places of business from Chicago to Cairo.

Odd isn't it? Choice - not allowed when it comes to lighting up that Camel - allowed to deny rights to the unborn.

Moderation, that beacon of reason, may yet rise to the solution here. If indeed second hand smoke is harmful, all employees are covered under the laws of the state, specifically the Occupational Disease Act.

They would only have to come into the Workers Compensation Commission with medical and scientific evidence, and prove their case, a difficult proposition be sure. Much easier to have the General Assembly just do away with that pesky burden of proof. Like the ill-conceived Prohibition Act, this ban will ultimately be modified, if not repealed. In the meantime, a few modest proposals.

Places of business that neither serve food or drink, the ban stays in effect. Places that are primary food establishments - and you can tell through receipts, like in the old days when only with a specified amount of food sales could liquor be sold on Sundays - the ban stays.

But, bars, those places that are neighborhood watering holes, freedom is restored, and the smoking lamp is lit. The smoking bars, and they must be bars only, would have stickers that affixed to the front door that proclaims inside to be a SMOKING ESTABLISHMENT.

Buyer beware.

Freedom is worth the struggle. It is being taken away on some many levels, some many places, in so many ways.

Perhaps we here need a version of the Boston Tea Party, a night where a group of courageous nicotine empowered citizens smoke 'em up en masse, testing the law by taking it to the limits. Surely the police, the fun and the regular, would have much better things to do than arrest the Marlboro Man and his date Virginia Slim.

Let us only hope so.

More News