JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Paul Greenberg Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellClarence PageRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Jewish World Review / June 30, 1998 / 6 Tamuz, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Smoke gets in their eyes

PERHAPS NOTHING IS MORE AMUSING or more pathetic than adults determined to force adolescents to do their bidding. The defeat of the tobacco bill in Congress and pledges by the Clinton administration to continue to search for ways to "save our children" from the ravages of tobacco smoke and addiction to nicotine will be about as effective as Prohibition.

Today the crusaders are named Bill Clinton, C. Everett Koop and John McCain. More than 90 years ago there were Chicago's Lucy Page Gaston and her Anti-Cigarette League of America. Gaston's crusade
Lucy Page Gaston
paralleled the work of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, from which she emerged to lead her own campaign to stamp out cigarette smoking. It was Gaston who invented the term "coffin nails." Next to Carry Nation, who entered a Wichita, Kan., saloon with a hatchet in January, 1901, and within minutes destroyed the place, Gaston was the leading female reformer in America.

In the beginning, she seemed to be making progress. Cigarette production peaked at 4.9 billion units in 1897, but by 1901 fewer than 3.5 billion were produced. Gaston's crusade helped produce laws against smoking, including some that targeted women only (New York City passed the Sullivan Ordinance in 1908, prohibiting women from smoking in public; other municipalities followed New York's example). For many, such laws only added to the allure of cigarettes. This forbidden-fruit factor, coupled with the aura of danger surrounding cigarettes, and men who smoked while away in World War I, contributed to more, not less, smoking. States like Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa and Tennessee repealed their anti-smoking laws in 1917. The defeat of the anti-smoking crusade was a forerunner to the repeal of Prohibition, another attempt to regulate a form of human behavior that encountered strong resistance.

As historian Robert Sobel recounts in his book They Satisfy: The Cigarette in American Life, Gaston toyed with the idea of running for president. Her platform sounded like a forerunner of the Christian Coalition: "clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement." There was even an anti-Communist angle. Gaston believed that cigarettes were a Bolshevik plot because some brands had been imported from Russia.

Gaston was appalled when Warren Harding -- a cigarette smoker -- was elected president in 1920. She said Harding had a "cigarette face" (a diagnosis invented by Gaston). She predicted Harding would come to no good, that his administration would be laced with corruption, and that Harding would even die in office before the end of his term (he did, but not from cigarette smoking). Gaston was struck by a trolley in 1924 and later died. Her doctor said the cause of death was not her injuries, but throat cancer, though there is no indication she was a smoker.

Sobel notes that when she started the National Anti-Cigarette League, 4.4 billion cigarettes were consumed. The year she died, more than 73 billion cigarettes were sold.

Calvin Coolidge, who succeeded Harding in 1924, didn't like Prohibition because "any law that inspires disrespect for other laws -- the good laws -- is a bad law." Banning liquor helped fund organized crime. People with good motives used wrong tactics in an attempt better social conditions and, instead, made things worse. Adolph Busch, the brewer, wrote President Coolidge: "An unpopular statutory control of individual habits can never be substituted for voluntary temperance, individual self-restraint and reasonable statutory regulation. The law should be written in terms of temperance and reasonable regulation; then the evils of the present system would disappear."

In 1905, the New York Times had editorialized against one proposed anti-cigarette law in Indiana, calling it "fussy legislation" and "as scandalous an interference as can be conceived with constitutional freedoms." Today The Times, which flipped on abortion, has also flipped on cigarettes, believing teen-agers can be dissuaded from smoking without regulation of the "cool" factor.

It is unlikely that today's anti-tobacco crusaders and politicians will be any more successful than Lucy Page Gaston and her followers. Adults telling kids they don't want them to smoke will likely encourage them to puff even more. What was that about those who learn nothing from history are doomed to repeat it?

6/25/98: Sugar and Spice Girls
6/19/98: William Perry opposed
technology transfers to China
6/19/98: The Clinton hare vs.the Starr tortoise
6/17/98: The President's rocky road to China
6/15/98: Let the children go
6/9/98: Oregon: the new killing fields
6/5/98: Speaking plainly: the cover-up continues
6/2/98: Barry Goldwater: in our hearts
5/28/98:The Speaker's insightful remarks
5/26/98: As bad as it gets
5/25/98:Union dues and don'ts
5/21/98: Connecting those Chinese campaign contribution dots
5/19/98: Clinton on the couch
5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
5/5/98: Clinton's tangled Webb
4/30/98: Return of the Jedi
4/28/98: Desparately seeking Susan
4/23/98: RICO's threat to free-speech and expression
4/21/98: Educating children v. preserving an institution
4/19/98: Analyzing the birth of a possible new nation
4/14/98: What's fair about our tax system?
4/10/98: CBS: 'Touched by a perv'
4/8/98: Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
4/2/98: How about helping American cities before African?
3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.