The anti-smoking Taliban

This week a place called a “tobacco bar,” Marshall McGearty Tobacco Artisans, was all over Chicago and national news. Like other major cities, Chicago has recently gone “smoke-free” in most public places of any kind. Ah, but there is a place that’s exempt _ the tobacco bar is set up as a tobacco manufacturer (the place is owned by R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco giant) and it’s free from the anti-smoking law. Customers actually choose from loose tobacco blends, and an expensive pack of cigarettes is then made to the customer’s order.

And then patrons can puff away — right there, inside a closed space, and legally.


Is it possible that the anti-smoking do-gooders will leave such folks alone? After all they are adults, there freely of their own accord, choosing to partake in a legal substance, and not bothering anyone else in the process.

No way. No sooner did news stories of the new establishment surface than do-gooders from the City Council and elsewhere were vowing to stamp out the loophole, so to speak, that allows such “treachery.”

(Somehow, I think if it were discovered the place was a gay men’s bathhouse many of these same folks vowing to shut it down would be strangely quiet instead.)

I’m not a smoker. Oh I snuck my requisite few in high school, but that was about it. It actually wasn’t the health concerns that turned me off of the stuff. It was when I found out that smokers show signs of aging faster than non-smokers that I decided it was not for me.

These days I don’t really mind being around smokers and getting the occasional waft. I will avoid heavy, smoke-filled spaces. So I won’t be going to the tobacco bar.

But where does this Taliban-like anti-smoking campaign come from? It can’t really be this stuff about second-hand smoke. The famous 1992 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study showing a causal relationship between second-hand smoke and cancer was so roundly debunked as junk science (even by other federal agencies) it was finally declared “null and void” by a federal judge. Sure, second-hand smoke can be annoying, and it can’t be healthy, but if you relegate smokers to their own enclosed space _ say a bar or a separate part of a restaurant where people, including staff, only go of their own free will _ who can object?

The anti-smoking Taliban, of course.

We are a culture that has been conditioned that we must make no value-judgments about anything that really matters. Adultery, divorce, fornication (and isn’t THAT an old fashioned word) addictions of all sorts, rampant obesity, things that hurt or even kill, that are profoundly destructive, directly or indirectly, to our young people, behaviors that involve moral components and choices _ these things are all off the table and rarely are value judgments offered. Most telling, with few exceptions we don’t legally try to limit such things.

And if the fellow next door leaves his family for a series of girlfriends, or the mom leaves to “find herself”? We are not to offer a value judgment, and the kids will be fine, don’t you know. After all, we don’t know what goes on “behind closed doors.” But, if after the no-fault divorce the departed parent comes to pick-up the children and is smoking a cigarette as he or she pulls into the driveway? Watch out _ the “Taliban” will swoop down and smugly denounce that mom or dad as a “bad parent.”

We are, at our core, moral beings. We want to make appropriate moral value judgments (which is, and should be, different than “condemnation” of others.) But in our culture we no longer dare do so. Worse, we’ve become a people who don’t want to call ourselves to moral standards, to deny our passions, or make choices or sacrifices based on the premise that it’s “not all about me.” I mean, that’s not fun!

So, enter the self-righteous anti-smoking Taliban. Smoking is the stand-in, the scapegoat. It’s the one thing, an easy thing, we can dump on. It requires no personal sacrifice, no thoughtful and legitimate value judgments, no change of moral behavior or denial of passions on the part of non-smokers. We can carelessly condemn smokers, quite literally run them out of town, and feel just delicious about ourselves.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that there is an inverse relationship between our increasingly “tolerant” culture _ and our anti-smoking zealotry.

(Betsy Hart is the author of “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It.” She can be reached at or