Laws and lawsuits blowing rings around smoking

Within 50 years, smoking will be a vice of the past

H

ere’s a radical prediction for you:  cigarettes will disappear by 2050.  Imagine. Your kids’ grandkids may have to actually Google ‘cigarette’ to find out what one looks like. 

That’s not my prediction, by the way — it comes out of a news report from Citigroup, Inc., which happens to be one of the Big Four American banks — and if you can’t trust an American banker, who can you trust? 

But whether oblivion awaits or not, there’s no doubt cancer sticks are on the run. The city council in Cambridge, Mass. has become the latest governing body to ban smoking, not just in restaurants, bars and public buildings but in all public places, including parks.

Cambridge is Johnny-come-lately in the gasper-banning game. Here in Canada public smoking is already just below public urination on the Social Taboo Totem Pole, but we’re not just harassing nicotine addicts — we’re siccing lawyers on the ghouls who manufacture the things. 

Last month, Newfoundland and Labrador became the latest province to sue tobacco companies.  The province aims to reclaim “all costs associated with health-care services provided to individuals who have suffered from tobacco-related diseases as well as all future health-related costs.”

And how much might that add up to? Nobody’s saying exactly, but my bet is there aren’t enough zeroes on the tobacco industry abacus to cover it. Other provincial lawsuits against tobacco companies offer a glimpse:  British Columbia sued 14 tobacco firms for $10 billion in 2004.  Five years later, Ontario and Quebec held out their hands for a combined $80 billion. New Brunswick is waving legal papers in Rothman’s face and the provinces of Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are drawing up legislation as I type.

What are the odds that we’ll see a reversal in public opinion and smoking will become cool again? Slim to none. This ashtray is full. 

I say that with confidence because I just read that New York City has extended its already extensive smoking ban to include municipal parks, all beaches … and even Times Square.

Times Square? The junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue has been smoke friendly since the chief of the Manhattan Indian tribe sat down to swap pipes with Henry Hudson and his crew 400 years ago. Times Square is more than smoke-friendly, it’s smoke-exultant. 

I remember one classic New York moment I witnessed in Times Square many years ago. My pal, Big John and I were in the middle of a clump of pedestrians waiting for a break in the traffic. Big John, as usual, had a cigar in his mouth. He’s a mountain of a man with a bushy black beard and a somewhat fearsome mien. He happens to have the personality of a pussycat but you wouldn’t guess that by looking at him. If Big John wants to smoke a cigar, most people let him.

Except for this wizened little granny standing beside us that day in Times Square.  Even though she topped out at maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, she squinted up at John’s face and waved a Macy’s shopping bag to get his attention. 

“Get ridda dat t’ing!” she shrilled. “You’re vialatin’ my air space!”

What made the moment especially memorable was the fact we were all standing under the famous Times Square billboard advertising Winston cigarettes. It featured a giant man’s face puffing on a cigarette and blowing actual smoke rings into the air.  That billboard had been blowing smoke rings (first for Camel cigarettes, later for Winston) over Times Square about a thousand times ever day since 1941.

We thought Indignant Granny was pretty hilarious back then. We didn’t realize she was just a little ahead of her time.