Tobacco Is a Dirty Weed; I Like It
In 1604, James I of England ordered his subjects to stop using tobacco, “the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” Other anti-smoking politicians have tried whippings in Russia, nose-slittings in India and beheadings in Turkey; one sultan roamed the streets of Istanbul in disguise and beheaded any tobacco seller he found. Even our California fanatics wouldn’t go that far. I don’t think.
Massachusetts outlawed the sale of tobacco in the 1630s, and in the 1640s, Connecticut banned public smoking and ordered private smokers to get a license. These measures failed, just as the Turkish penalty had.
By 1909, with the help of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the National Anti-Cigarette League had succeeded in outlawing smoking in North Dakota, Iowa, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Washington, South Dakota and Minnesota. New York City outlawed smoking by women, and 29-year-old Katie Mulcahey was jailed for lighting up in front of a policeman and telling him: “No man shall dictate to me.”
When drinking was outlawed, evangelist Billy Sunday said: “Prohibition is won. Now for tobacco.” The Presbyterian, Northern Baptist and Methodist churches called for tobacco prohibition, but amid growing public dismay about the effects of alcohol prohibition, they failed to win many more converts.
A popular song seemed to sum it all up:
Tobacco is a dirty weed. I like it.
It satisfies no normal need. I like it.
It makes you thin, it makes you lean,
It takes the hair right off your bean.
It’s the worst darn stuff I’ve ever seen.
I like it.
In California today, we have hectoring state anti-drinking signs in our restaurants and an expensive and intrusive state advertising campaign against smoking. Yet the very notion of state behavioral advertising is chilling. (Although I wouldn’t mind trying anti-bribe ads in Sacramento.)
The state Department of Health Services says it will “change the image” of smoking from “sexy, glamorous, youthful” to “dumb, dirty, dangerous.” While I don’t know anyone who thinks smoking is the former, the latter sounds like a great description of the government.
At least the tobacco industry works through persuasion. The state of California gets its money, and its way, at the point of a gun. Give me Virginia Slims over the tax man any day.