Remember the not-so-long-ago days when smokers would rather have fought than switched? When they'd have walked a mile for a cigarette?
That fervor for smoking--a phenomenon that might seem to have wheezed its last gasp as city after city, from Los Angeles to New York, imposed restrictions on lighting up--still burns brightly in some quarters.
The quarrel New Year's Eve over a smoking ban on an L.A.-bound jet was only one sign that inveterate smokers--insisting on their right to enjoy a habit with proven deadly effects--are trying to choke back an ever-tightening noose of limitations on smoking in public places and at work.
Other reports from the battlefront:
- In Minneapolis, a labor arbitrator last year overturned a ban on smoking imposed by Group Health, a large Twin Cities health maintenance organization. The Service Employees International Union said the company had failed to negotiate the restriction with workers.
- Restaurateurs and other business operators won the reversal of no-smoking ordinances last year in Telluride, Colo., and Beverly Hills, where one recalcitrant smoker paid a $100 fine rather than stub out a butt while dining at the Cafe Beverly Hills.
- Amy Lipson of Baldwin, N.Y.--physically dependent on cigarettes, according to a doctor's testimony--has asked a New York administrative court to rule that a department store's policy of refusing to hire smokers is a form of illegal discrimination against the medically disabled.
- In less than a year, more than 500 people--one-third of them civil liberties-minded nonsmokers--have joined the Smokers' Rights Alliance, a Mesa, Ariz.-based group founded after four Phoenix-area cities established strict prohibitions on smoking in public places.
In each instance, tobacco's defenders insist, anti-smoking forces have pushed too far.
"This is Big Brother. This is Carrie Nation. This is good old-fashioned prohibitionism run rampant," said Ray Scannell, a spokesman for the Bakery Confectionery and Tobacco Workers International Union who, incidentally, is a nonsmoker. "It's an attempt to dictate behavior, and Americans are not very good at having behavior dictated to them, especially by self-righteous moralists who have decided it's not good for you to smoke."
Smokers have been on the defensive in the United States at least since 1964, with the publication of the first surgeon general's report categorically linking smoking to lung disease.
For men, the habit peaked in popularity that year, when 53% of adult males smoked. Women's smoking hit its zenith a year later, with 34% smoking in 1965, according to the industry-financed Tobacco Institute. Now, barely a third of the adult population smokes cigarettes, the institute says, and sales have slid almost 9% since 1981.
Meanwhile, anti-smoking activists--further armed with the surgeon general's 1986 report on the dangers of second-hand smoke and a 1985 study about smoking's role in industrial disease--have grown more militant.
Banned on Some Flights
By the end of last year, the burgeoning nonsmoking movement had helped convince 14 states to regulate smoking in private workplaces, 32 states to limit smoking in public offices and perhaps as many as 350 local governments to restrict smoking in restaurants, hotels and other public places. On their own, hundreds of businesses have banned smoking entirely in company buildings. At least 40 won't knowingly hire smokers, according to a survey by the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP).
On Jan. 1, California banned smoking on flights that begin and end in the state. Congress slapped a prohibition against smoking on flights scheduled to last two hours or less, effective in April. And with each new regulation, nonsmokers--who before might have hesitated about asking a stranger to put out a cigarette--have grown bolder and bolder in their demands for fresh air.
"There's so much pressure on smokers now and so many people who have bad attitudes about the habit that people have to quit or smoke in closets," said Robert Rosner, executive director of the Smoking Policy Institute in Seattle. "There's incredible ill will toward smokers these days."
Many smokers have simply laid down before the anti-smoking steamroller, limiting their habit to respect the preferences of the nonsmokers who surround them. "Most smokers do not subscribe to the tobacco industry's concept that smoking is an inalienable right," said Dr. Nancy Rigotti, associate director of the Institute for the Study of Smoking Behavior and Policy at Harvard University.
Most nonsmoking policies, therefore, are put into effect with a minimum of resistance and conflict, smoking experts say. "The number of instances of non-compliance is really almost negligible, if you take the time to make it work," said Rita K. Addison, president of Clean Air Associates, a Boston consulting firm that has helped companies employing 250,000 workers implement smoking restrictions.