Anti-Anti-Smokers Speak Up


Regional/ Kansas City:


By Jack Cashill

October 2007
Courtesy of & Missouri Medicine: Jan/Feb 2008 - #46)

First the City Council of Kansas City came for the Minutemen—Minutewomen to be precise—and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Minuteman, let alone a Minutewoman.

(Well, actually I did speak up, but obviously not loudly enough).

And then they came for the smokers. And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a smoker. Never was in fact.

And then they came for the owners of bars and casinos.

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a gambler or a drinker—okay, at least not a chronic gambler or drinker.

And then they came for me. And by that time therewas no one left to speak up—yada, yada, yada.

My apologies to Pastor Niemöller. The Nazis he faced in his time were a good deal scarier than our City Council. Still, these council folks have a powerful itch to restrict, and once that itch is scratched, a natural born scratcher inevitably looks for new and bigger itches.

And that takes us back to that first and foremost tobacco-Nazi, none other than der Führer himself. His jackboot came down hard and heavy on the German tobacco industry.

He blasted tobacco advertising, banned smoking in public buildings and ginned up a sophisticated anti-smoking PR campaign. Sound familiar?

“Brother national socialist,” proclaimed a typically feverish Nazi propaganda piece, “Do you know that our Führer is against smoking and think that every German is responsible to the whole people for all his deeds and emissions.”

As history records, the Nazis did not content themselves with smokers.

In all fairness, the City Council people—led by my very own councilwoman, Beth Gottstein—are less Adolph Hitler and

more Mrs. Grundy, the fictional buzz-kill who has personified “the tyranny of conventional propriety” for the last two centuries.

The urge to tyrannize seems to give Beth and the other Grundys on the council reason to get up in the morning. Indeed, the over-achieving Gottstein is starring in her second “Between the Lines” in her first year on the job, a singular honor.

Beth’s first star turn came as spokesmodel in the blissfully self-destructive campaign to rid official Kansas City of people who do not believe what she believes.

“My world is totally rocked by this,” she keened upon hearing of the appointment of 73 year-old grandmother Frances Semler to the Park Board.

Had a more tolerant Beth responded to the appointment by saying, “It takes all kinds,” half the conventions in the free world would not (allegedly) be threatening to boycott our fair city.

Now, Beth’s second star turn comes as the spokesmodel in an equally ham-handed campaign to rid Kansas City of people who do not behave as she behaves.

Specifically, if Beth and her fellow Grundys have their way, voters will be urged to approve a comprehensive smoking ban—including bars, restaurants, and casinos—this coming February.

As the reader can imagine, the owners of bars, restaurants, and casinos are not thrilled by this proposal, especially in that there are bars, restaurants, and casinos in cities other than Kansas City, Missouri.

Indeed, this proposal may even scare off those few convention planners not (allegedly) offended by the presence of Minutewoman Semler on the Park Board or intimidated by Beth’s buddies at La Raza.

Regardless of its economic fallout, the Gottstein proposal proved to be all the talk at a recent meeting of the Tobacco Use Reduction Committee, a subset of the city Health Commission. (God, I hope these people are volunteers).

If anything, some of the hardcore do not think that Beth’s ban goes deep enough. They would extend it to tobacco shops, at least those that share a building with other businesses. The reason: “It’s difficult to stop second-hand smoke wafting into adjacent businesses or common areas of a building.”

Ah yes, second-hand smoke! Like real Nazis, our home grown Grundys are not averse to misusing science to ratchet up the worry factor. Happily, however, good science eventually trumps bad.

In the most comprehensive study to date, a 39-year study of 35,561 Californians as reported in the British Medical Journal, researchers found no “causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and tobacco-related mortality.”

This should not have come as a surprise. Thirty years earlier, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that working an eight hour day in a smoky environment like a cocktail lounge was the equivalent of smoking one cigarette a month.

In reality, a non-smoker in Kansas City is more likely to be eaten by a polar bear driven mad by global warming than to die of second-hand smoke.

As we know too, there are real things to worry about in Kansas City. Looking at HIV and STD rates, I would suspect that sex with one stranger per month is dramatically riskier than smoke from one cigarette a month. Should we not then regulate sex? 

Speaking of risk, how about the fact that in the six months Ms. Gottstein has been in office some 50 good souls have been slain on the streets of Kansas City and another 700 assaulted? 

These are real dead people with real families, not hypothetical ones. Where is the Murder Reduction Committee? Given a KC homicide rate 20 times higher than Johnson County’s—and four times higher than New York City’s—why are we more concerned with people smoking than people getting smoked.

Could it be that while smoke wafts everywhere, bullets fly only in other people’s neighborhoods?

That is not to deny that smoking can be annoying, but lots of things in restaurants and bars are annoying—loud music, belligerent drunks, girls who swear, waiters who tell you their names, soccer on the bar TV.

The progressive, pro-choice response would seem to be live and let live. Don’t outlaw the bars and restaurants that annoy you, avoid them.

Or better still, my aspiring Grundys, get entrepreneurial and open a bar/restaurant for the thousands who think as you do.

Imagine one where the air is strained and smokeless, where the men don’t whistle or wink, where perfume and peanuts are history, where jokes are told only about lawyers and blondes, where all chickens are free range and all veggies free of trans fats, where the mold has been litigated out of the walls and the hot out of the coffee, where the chefs wear gloves and the waiters wear face masks, and where even the bar stools have seat belts.

And there you and your pals can sit in pristine isolation and bemoan the freedoms those wascally wight-wingers have taken away from you. 

Who is Jack Cashill?

Webmaster's note: This article appeared in the January/February 2008 issue of Missouri Medicine.



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