Smokers' Rights: What You Can Do

  • Vote

    Believe it or not, your vote is your most powerful instrument of change. Far too many smokers don't bother to vote because they believe that since they belong to a minority, it would be a waste of time and effort.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. At 25% of the adult population, American smokers outnumber Jews (2%), Gays (6%) and Blacks (12%), yet the last three groups have won rights written into law. Why? They organized, they lobbied and they voted. So far, smokers haven't done those things, which is why they are where they are today: outside.

    Block votes are powerful. If smokers organized into a voting block, politicians would be falling all over themselves to win those votes. But if you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the way you are treated.

  • Write Your Local Paper

    Most papers reserve a section for Letters to the Editor. They publish all kinds of opinions, including those that contradict their own. Letters do compete for space, however, and there are a number of ways to improve your chances of being published.

    1. Check your grammar and spelling. Use a dictionary. Get a friend to proofread.
    2. Most papers limit letters to about 300 words, so make your points as concisely as possible.
    3. Be timely. Don't respond to an article or issue that's weeks old.
    4. Cite references where appropriate.
    5. Read the letters page to find out the requirements for submission. These typically include your name, address and phone number. That's also where you'll likely find how to address letters intended for publication. If you can't find it in the paper, you can call them.
    6. Finally, be aware that many letters get edited for length, readability and taste.

    Sample Letter 1

    Sample Letter 2

  • Write your representatives

    Letters to representatives are similar to letters to editors. While politicians don't impose a word limit, they do have their own time limit and long letters are less likely to be read. In many cases, the legislators' volume of mail prevents them from reading it all; it gets screened by assistants or staff, and only certain pieces get passed on. Even if your letter is only read by an aide, however, it gets counted, just like a vote. An accurate tally is kept on the number of letters on each side of every issue.

    Many constituents prefer to FAX a letter rather than mail it. FAXes are faster; with mail, you get to control the paper and appearance. Take your pick.

    Sample Letter to a Politician

  • Speak Out

    One of the most important avenues of expression available to us is the City Council Hearing. City Councils usually have several public hearings on an issue before they may legally pass a new ordinance. Anyone may speak, and many do, though in comparison to elections the number is small. Your opinions carry, proportionally, much more weight in a hearing with a hundred speakers than in an election with half a million voters.

    In order to let everyone have their say, speakers are normally given a time limit, usually three minutes. While memorized speeches make the best impression, few can manage that. Most people read from prepared text or notes.

    Public speaking is not for everybody. You need confidence in order to stand up and speak in front of so many people, not to mention the Mayor and Council Members themselves. If you get so nervous in such circumstances that you can't speak, then this is not for you. But a certain amount of nervousness is inevitable: many speakers show it, so you'll have plenty of company.

    Sample Speech

  • Join

    There are a number of Smokers' Rights organizations you can join. Most are inexpensive or free, but if you can afford it, find one that puts money to good use (such as advertising or legal challenges) and contribute what you can.

    The United Smokers Association
    P.O.Box 1234
    Rocky Mount, NC

    National Smoker's Alliance
    901 N. Washington St., Suite 400
    Alexandria, VA 22314

    American Smokers Alliance
    P.O. Box 189
    Bellvue, Co 8051

    In addition, there are frequently State or local organizations in your area. Call 1-800-333-8683, a Smokers' Rights Hotline organized by R.J. Reynolds, and they will put you in touch with one, if it exists.

  • Organize

    Form your own Smokers' Rights chapter. If it's successful, you may later wish to affiliate with others. Some tips that may help:

    1. Keep the organizing committee as small as possible. The more people there are, the more there is to argue about and the longer it takes to reach a decision.

    2. Define your goals clearly. Whatever it is you plan to do, be it writing editors and politicians, drawing up petitions and getting them signed, getting smokers registered to vote, make it the mission of the group and stick to it. If you don't you'll get bogged down in endless committee arguments about what to do next. In the ensuing melee, the purpose of the group, i.e. to promote smokers' rights, may get forgotten.

    3. Be realistic about money. While most organizing groups democratically want to make membership available to as many people as possible - cheap, in other words, remember that most meaningful measures are going to cost money. It is better to have a smaller group that can afford to accomplish something of substance than a big one that is broke. For $5 a year, most groups' idea of "fair and reasonable" dues, you can afford to send every member a newsletter once a month. Which accomplishes exactly nothing besides putting you in the newsletter publication business, eating up all of your spare time and effectively removing you from the struggle for smokers' rights.

    4. Network. Don't try to do it all yourself. Ferret out other Rights Groups and stay in touch with them. You can keep each other motivated, come up with more good ideas and coordinate your activities for greater impact.

  • Boycott

    Don't patronize establishments that don't permit smoking. Don't go to nonsmoking restaurants. Don't go to nonsmoking sports stadia and arenas. Don't go to movies such as Waterworld that are anti-smoking. Don't watch anti-smoking TV shows like Seinfeld.

    In short, don't give your good money to people who hold you in contempt. And for maximum effect, let them all know that they have lost your business. Talk to, phone and write to managers, sponsors and corporations.

  • Sue the Bastards

    In order to challenge a law, you must have what is called "standing": you must be in a position where you can claim that you are adversely affected by the law that you are challenging. If you wish to challenge a smoking ban, you may have sufficient standing as a smoker. A class of smokers, however, has much more standing. The more smokers you get to join as plaintiffs, the better the chance that your suit will not be dismissed outright.

    The main obstacle to challenging laws is the money it takes to pay the lawyers. You could organize a group of affluent smokers. Or you could seek to organize groups of affected businesses, such as bars, restaurants and hotels that can fund legal challenges to overturn laws. If you're rich, sue them yourself. If not, consider the American Civil Liberties Union.

  • Here are two letters that got published in the San Jose Mercury News:

    Dear Sir,

    Your editorial on the non-smoking arena was a celebration of bigotry.

    The arena was and will continue to be funded by taxpayers' money. That's ALL taxpayers, not just non-smokers. By failing to accommodate everyone, the city has delivered yet another slap in the face of smokers.

    The idea that only the needs of the majority should be considered is contrary to every tenet of civil rights. Where would blacks, Jews, gays and the handicapped be today if that kind of thinking were the norm?

    "Go stand outside. Period." "Smokers are getting used to it." Sure. In the same way that blacks "got used" to the back of the bus, in the same way that Jews "got used" to exclusion, smokers are "getting used" to standing outside in the weather.

    The truth is that any oppressed group knows better than to argue.

    Dear Sir,

    In his letter of March 29 ("Pay-as-you-smoke"), Bill Hildebrand complains about the phrase "Smoke Nazis" and argues that smokers cost society money. They don't.

    Apart from accidents, smokers and nonsmokers alike die mostly from heart disease, cancer and strokes. Smokers just get them three years sooner, on average. By living longer, non-smokers incur more medical and old age expenses, not less. In addition, smokers' shorter lifespans mean they cost less in Social Security and pensions. Finally, they pay more taxes during their lives. Stanford economist Timothy Taylor, an anti-smoker, made the above points in these very pages last year (San Jose Mercury News, March 7, 1994.)

    While knowledgeable people realize that the so-called social cost of smoking is a fallacy, the less informed find it fine fodder to feed their prejudices. Such people fall into two groups. One consists of puritans who regard those not like themselves as moral deviants. The other is made up of people of low self-esteem who need someone to look down on in order to feel superior by comparison. Since it is now illegal to act out prejudice against blacks, Jews, gays, Hispanics, the handicapped, foreign nationals and other historical victims, smokers are now the target of choice.

    Would you, I wonder, publish a letter that claimed Jews owned all the wealth? I doubt it. But smokers seem to be fair game. By perpetuating such stereotypes and myths, the Mercury News has played no small part in fomenting hatred of them.

    "Smoke Nazis." It has a nice ring to it.

    Following is a letter sent to George Stephanopoulos, Senior Adviser to the President.

    Dear Mr. Stephanopoulos,

    Today 50 million smokers are subjected to a growing onslaught of harrassment, discriminatory laws and outright hostility, yet are largely powerless to fight back. They have been denied employment or fired for smoking in their own homes, have been refused medical treatment and have even lost custody of their own children over the issue of smoking.

    The divisiveness caused by this issue has penetrated every niche of society, pitting former friends against each other and even splitting families. As a smoker, I am no longer welcome in my own parents' home. And the degree of hostility it has engendered is rarely appreciated by those who are not its target. Here is a sample sentiment from an anti-smoker, taken from the Internet:

    "If you smoke you are either a murderer or a moron. If you do not stop voluntarily you will be caged."

    All of this is the result of government anti-smoking campaigns, funded in many cases by smokers' own tax money.

    In the face of this overwhelming assault on their rights and their dignity, smokers find themselves voiceless. Newspapers that run columns by women, blacks, gays, Hispanics and other socially disadvantaged groups rebuff offers of columns by and for smokers. Smokers who write letters to the editor are either ignored or are edited to ribbons; those half-letters that do get run are likely to be placed next to a rabid anti-smoking editorial, and the editors ensure that letters from antis outnumber those from smokers by about two to one. Lengthy articles by anti-smokers are given prominent space, while rebuttal articles by smokers or their supporters are never published. How do I know this? I write them.

    Now that smoking has been banned virtually everywhere, anti-smokers can no longer use the pretext of secondhand smoke to conceal their true agenda: forcing smokers to quit. It's out in the open now, under the banner of "addiction". But if no one knew they were addicted until the FDA told them, they were hardly addicted. And if everyone has known all along, then it's hardly a revelation. Such grandstanding is merely a grab for political power at the expense of millions of innocent - and voting - citizens.

    The underlying supposition in the holy war against smoking is that no one has the right to take health risks - that there is a duty to be healthy. But when this lofty so-called principle is applied to no groups other than smokers, it becomes evident that there is no principle involved at all. Just power and Puritanism, neither of which is appropriate in a movement that professes to do good.

    It is time to end this uncivil war which is creating a new underclass. I would suggest that future policy be guided by the these principles:

  • Our bodies are not government property. Smokers' health - and that of everyone else - is no one's business but their own.

  • Whether Environmental Tobacco Smoke is regarded as a risk or as a nuisance, it is no justification for turning 50 million people into second class citizens. The problem is easily solved by separation: separate restaurants, separate flights and separately ventilated offices. Being forced to stand, like animals, outside in the weather is not an acceptable solution in an otherwise free and civilized country.
  • Thank you for your attention.

    Following is a sample speech. It was delivered at a Santa Clara, CA City Council hearing on a proposed total indoor smoking ban.

    Freedom is the most basic precept of our society. Today it is threatened by modern Carry Nations with an ayatollah gleam in their eyes. Anti-smokers now claim an absolute right to a smoke-free environment wherever they go on the grounds that secondhand smoke poses a risk to them. Let's examine that risk.

    These neo-prohibitionists parrot that secondhand smoke kills 53,000 people a year: the sum of the EPA's claim of 3,000 (currently being contested in court) plus 50,000, a number based on a study which found a barely measurable increase in arterial deposits in non-smokers living with smokers for upwards of 40 years. This condition can cause heart attacks and strokes when the deposits are thick enough to block the passage of blood. However, the study assumed a mortality rate in direct proportion to the thickness of such deposits - no "threshold", in other words. This is like saying that if a million people cross a body of water 10 feet deep and 100,000 drown, then 1000 would drown in water an inch deep. The claim of 50,000 is absurd, and the EPA has dissociated itself from it.

    In January 1993, the EPA released a report claiming that 3,000 Americans die each year of cancer resulting from exposure to secondhand smoke. The figure in question was based on 30 studies, only 6 of which found any relation between second hand smoke and cancer. The largest and most recent study, partially funded by the National Cancer Institute, found no correlation at all, and neither did the 24 other studies. In an egregious breach of scientific methodology, the EPA discarded those showing no effect and added the rest together. Then they used a risk ratio smaller than that of chlorinated water to define risk. Still not happy, they next performed statistical sleight-of-hand by lowering their customary "confidence interval" in order to inflate the final number to 3,000, which was then published as "fact". This number is currently being challenged in Federal court, where it will likely be repudiated.

    The next line in the anti-smoking catechism blames secondhand smoke for the higher mortality among California waiters. Waiters lead stressful lives, spend all day on their feet and are exposed to cooking oils and smoke, themselves carcenogenic. They also belong to an income group with higher mortality rates. It is a forlorn hope that banning smokers will change those numbers at all.

    In 1988, the Surgeon General reported that of the 2.1 million Americans who died the previous year, nearly 1.5 million succumbed to diseases associated with diet. "What we eat may affect our risk for several of the leading causes of death for Americans, notably coronary heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, diabetes and some types of cancer," the report said. "These disorders together now account for more than two-thirds of all deaths in the United States." Surgeon General Everett Koop later stated on national television that diet kills an estimated one million Americans each year.

    One million is hundreds of times larger than 3,000. So did everyone scurry to avoid all foods but celery and yoghurt? No, they fired up their (cough) mesquite grills, barbecues and fireplaces while erecting "No Smoking" signs.

    In addition to the million killed by their diets, 190,000 die from cancer attributable to carcinogens naturally present in food. 120,000 die from alcohol related illnesses. Another 45,000 get wiped out on the roads. Total: 1,355,000. That means that driving to a restaurant and having wine with dinner is over 450 times as dangerous as inhaling any smoke present at the time.

    A risk which is insignificant compared to the routine of living does not constitute grounds for turning a quarter of the adult population into second class citizens.

    It is certainly no justification for a total smoking ban when the freedom to choose smoking or non-smoking establishments would accommodate everyone.

    Instead of jumping on a bandwagon of in-your-face political correctness, have a closer look at this truly evil trend:

    * Employees have been fired for smoking in their own homes.
    * Smokers have been denied custody of their own children.
    * Smokers must suffer a TV hate campaign funded by their own tax money.

    In a supposedly free country, this hysteria makes no sense. Something else is at work here, something far older than the debate on smoking. Blacks and Jews will recognize it instantly.

    Some people, it seems, just aren't happy without someone to hate.

    Before you give in to hate, before you create a new kind of apartheid, say to yourselves:

    "Wait! This is America! We don't do that kind of thing to people here!"

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