Light up a smoke -- a strike for freedom

March 29, 1994|By Jon Margolis

FRIENDS of Freedom, gird thy loins. The barbarian is at the gate and we must do battle, even at risk of life and lung.

And who is this barbarian? As ever, it is the totalitarian instinct, which dwelleth in us all, yea even in thee and me. It would have us dictate to our fellows that they live as we choose to live, and forbid them pleasures we find obnoxious.

Yes, within us all, even thee and me, but thee and me, we resist manfully. Or, in some cases, womanfully.

Others do not, and some of them have risen to positions of power in government, in academia, in do-gooderism and the communications dodge.

Now they are poised for a major offensive, and we, even thee and me, fellow Friends of Freedom, must commence making a sacrifice lest they succeed.

It will not be easy, but the defense of liberty never was. It will entail some risk, but risk must be taken. It will be inconvenient and it will cost a few bucks.

Small prices, indeed, considering what is at stake.

Put simply, we must all start smoking cigarettes.

Yes, yes, they're bad for one's health. They may even be bad for two's or three's health, referring here to the folks sitting nearby in an enclosed area. In such situations, smoking may be postponed, especially if children are present.

Otherwise, we must puff away (though inhaling is optional), presenting a united front against the scourge which threatens American liberties -- the totalitarian impulse of the moralistic busybodies.

Who have raised their perniciousness to unprecedented levels. The Food and Drug Administration, it seems, has obtained information indicating that the tobacco companies might be zapping extra nicotine into cigarettes to make sure smokers get a sufficient buzz from their puffing. If so, this could open the door for greater government regulation of cigarettes, even for an outright ban on them, because it would remove any doubt that -- are you ready for this? -- NICOTINE IS AN ADDICTIVE DRUG!

Well, sure it is. So is the alcohol you had in your cocktail or glass of wine last night. And so is all that caffeine you had this morning. If you doubt that, try going a day without coffee and without getting a headache. The fact is that the addictive power of these drugs is small enough that most adults can manage to use them without doing themselves much harm.

And if they do themselves harm? Well, that's their business isn't it?

Here is how we know that the latest ploy is not a move to protect the health of citizens but a surrender to the totalitarian impulse: If the tobacco companies are adding nicotine to cigarettes, the government could conceivably put a stop to it. There is precedent for that kind of regulation, though the FDA does not now have the power to do so. But were health the only concern of the anti-smoking zealots, they would be talking only of seeking that power, not of banning cigarettes.

The distinction between protecting health and the totalitarian impulse is not that hard to make. Even if the secondhand smoke danger has been overblown, cigarettes are annoying to non-smokers, so restricting or prohibiting their use in offices and stores is sensible, as are no-smoking sections in restaurants. Banning cigarettes in bars, where one goes only voluntarily and only for fun, is totalitarianism.

And do not think the busy-bodies would stop with cigarettes. Next on their list would be cigars. Intelligent, civilized cigar smokers (that may be redundant), don't inhale, but cigars, too, have nicotine. Whether life without cigars would be worth living is an interesting philosophical question, considering that cigars may be superior to mere human beings. As a great writer once wrote, or would have if he'd lived in our too-enlightened era, "a person is only a person, but a good cigar is a smoke."

There is a reasonably good argument that red meat is bad for one's health, not to mention eggs, milk and cheese. Booze and coffee could certainly be the objects of prohibition campaigns. There resides among us a subculture which will not rest until we all drink nothing more interesting than carrot juice, eat nothing more interesting than plain tofu and have no ideas more interesting than the ones found in New Age journals.

Having finished with food, drink and smokes, they will turn to pastimes they deem objectionable, such as hunting and fishing, which, let us admit, unleash our more primitive instincts.

Let's stop them now. Buy a pack of butts. Light up and walk down the street, puffing away and pretending to enjoy it, even as Bogart, Cooper, Davis and the Duke did in all those great movies. And if the smell displeases, think how much worse is the stench of sanctimonious self-righteousness.

With a little luck, the zealots will retreat and we can stop after a while. A few weeks of coughing is a small price to pay for human freedom.

Jon Margolis is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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