A home for smokers

April 07, 1994|By Art Buchwald

THE cigarette companies are worried that the anti-smoking campaign is catching fire and the government may issue stronger regulations concerning the use of tobacco.

Many government and private buildings have "No Smoking" regulations, as do airplanes, trains and massage parlors. Golf courses are seriously thinking of banning smokers, as are schools, shopping malls and even football huddles.

So where do people go to fill their lungs with nicotine? The government is working on it.

One suggestion making the rounds here in Washington is that the government set aside a piece of land somewhere in the United States where smokers could go when they wanted a cigarette. Yellowstone Park has been mentioned, but conservationists have opposed the idea because they fear that secondhand smoking would make all the grizzly bears sick.

The Mojave Desert in California is also being studied, as are Las Vegas casinos.

A member of the search committee, Minnie Broderick, told me: "We'd like to make the smoking areas as convenient as possible but we don't want to upset the ecological balance, which is what cigarette smoke is suspected of doing. The main problem in choosing an area for smokers is that no state in the union wants them."

"Why should we get the nicotine from New Jersey?" a Florida legislator asked after hearing that Washington was going to buy the Everglades and turn it over to smokers. In a debate on the House floor he yelled, "Doesn't anyone here give a damn about alligators?"

The smokers were not too thrilled about the government idea either. A two-pack-a-day lobbyist from Greensboro declared, "I'm not going to Nebraska just to light up. I have a right to smoke here at home. You can take North Carolina out of the smoker, but you can't take the smoker out of North Carolina."

To make life more pleasant for those who would be going to the smoking "reservation," the government is seriously thinking of getting the Army Corps of Engineers to build gambling casinos.

Minnie Broderick tried to explain: "We realize that we are inconveniencing people by making them go so far away to blow smoke rings. But it had to come to this or ban smoking in the entire country. Once everyone gets used to the idea we will all be better off."

The tobacco companies are fighting the idea like mad. "Nobody has proved conclusively that cigarettes are bad for you," said Dina Tuft, an industry lobbyist.

"As a matter of fact, the doctors under contract to us have proved that a cigarette inhaled after someone has been shot can save that person's life. If Congress takes part in this giveaway we'll see that every incumbent is defeated by refusing to provide ashtrays for their fund-raising dinners."

Other sites still being considered are the tundra in Alaska, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado and the Whitewater River in Arkansas.

Minnie Broderick admitted that there could be a delay in opening up the smoking area because the tobacco states also intend to fight the plan. As one Virginia senator put it, "Everyone worries about the spotted owl but nobody gives a damn about saving the Marlboro Man."

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.

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