Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2003 / 7 Shevat, 5763

Jerry Della Femina

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Consumer Reports

Will his political career go up in smoke?

With every passing day, smokers are being tortured by non-smokers. Leading the battle is Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has decided that if you are a smoker, not only is Big Brother watching you, but he is making your life miserable in the process. I wrote this column last year about this time and it's even more meaningful today than it was then. So, sit back, lock yourself in your room, light up, and enjoy. | Let me set the record straight: I don't smoke -- I haven't touched a cigarette in 30 years. I don't represent a tobacco company nor ever intend to represent one in the future.

So why am I so appalled by Mayor Bloomberg's decision to squeeze those poor unfortunates who are hopelessly addicted to cigarettes with a tax that will bring the cost up to seven bucks a pack? Because Bloomberg, who has been masterful in portraying himself as Rudy "Lite," may have tripped up and just have started World War III.

On one side, the world's smokers, on the other side, the most maligned, put-upon group of people in the history of the world. If you're a smoker and you light up, even your loyal pet dog looks at you with disdain. Take one lousy puff and everyone hates you. How bad is it? Even liberals who claim they love everyone openly hate and persecute cigarette smokers. They are far kinder to heroin junkies than they are to poor people who can't break a cigarette addiction.

It's not just liberals. Libertarians are in favor of taking cigarette smokers' rights away. Sweet little old ladies who tell us how much they love the lambies and the duckies turn into Ninja assassins when one of their neighbors lights a lousy cigarette. People who are ready to forgive Charles Manson won't give their mother a break if they catch her puffing on a Marlboro. Even those who are not smoking but just carrying an unlit cigar or cigarette are being harassed by the non-smoking Mafia.

This is a true story: A few years ago, a friend of mine who was desperate to give up smoking decided to wean himself off the demon weed by keeping an unlit cigar clinched in his teeth. One day as he was boarding a flight from Santa Fe to Los Angeles he was stopped by the agent who was checking passengers on to the plane. "I'm very sorry, sir, but you cannot board this plane with that cigar," said the agent.

"But the cigar isn't lit," said my friend, "and I don't intend to light it."

"I'm sorry, but that doesn't matter, your cigar is a threat to the other passengers."

"It's not lit."

"But it's a threatening gesture to the other passengers and I cannot let you on."

My friend had to pocket the cigar and then get on the plane.

The sad fact is that non-smokers, in the name of fresh air, are persecuting people whose only crime is they can't break the disgusting cigarette habit which they know is slowly killing them.

I think Bloomberg's tax will be the straw that broke the Camel smoker's back.

Bloomberg got 719,000 votes to become mayor. It is estimated that there are 2.4 million smokers in the city and nearly all of them are of voting age. If they get mad enough at Bloomberg, they can run Son of Sam against him and get him elected in a landslide.

What if the 45 million smokers in the United States get together and become the largest voting bloc in the history of the country? What if they found a handsome, intelligent Democrat or Republican candidate who is a three-pack-a-day guy?

In a country where less than 400,000 votes separated the candidates and five electoral votes made the difference in the last Presidential election, what can a bloc of voters 45 million strong do? They can get their man elected in a landslide.

What an inauguration that will be. Imagine the new President -- a cigarette dangling from his mouth -- taking the oath of office, then delivering a great speech about protecting the rights of the oppressed smoker punctuated by a hacking cough.

And watch what will happen when the Senate and the House realize that their re-election will be controlled by the bloc of militant smokers in their home state. The first law I would expect to see passed will have thousands of people in their shirtsleeves standing outside an office building freezing their butts off while they take a few minutes' break to get a few breaths of fresh air into their lungs. Then, inside the building, warm and toasty, sitting at their desks, their co-workers are filling the entire building with a cloud of cigarette smoke.

So I say, for the love of Mike, Mayor Bloomberg, give up this cigarette tax before all of our lungs are ruined. Just remember the lesson Freddie Ferrer taught Mark Green -- what goes around comes around.

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JWR contributor Jerry Della Femina was recently named by Advertising Age as one of the 100 Most Influential Advertising People of the Century. He's perhaps the most sought-after advertising expert in the country, there is no network, no publication and no organization on which, in which, or before which Mr. Della Femina has not appeared. He is also the author of two books, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor (a best-seller), and An Italian Grows in Brooklyn (a non-seller). Comment by clicking here.


11/07/02: Here's a dirty little secret: Most Italians sort of like the Mafia
10/17/02: Bloomberg for Honorary Italian of the Year

© 2002, Jerry Della Femina