Thank You For Not Smoking

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It was like any other Tuesday lunch hour, until the sheriff’s deputies walked in. Mr. Ernest Bamberger, general manager of the Keystone Mining Company and recent (unsuccessful) Republican candidate for United States senator, and Mr. John C. Lynch, manager of the Salt Lake Ice Company, finished their meals at the Vienna Café, an unpretentious but respectable businessmen’s restaurant on Salt Lake City’s Main Street, and prepared to savor their customary post-luncheon cigars. A few tables away, near the back of the crowded establishment, Mr. Edgar L. Newhouse, department manager for the American Smelting and Refining Company, paused briefly in his conversation with Mr. L. R. Eccles of Ogden to light a cigarette. At the same time, Mr. Ambrose Noble McKay, general manager of the Salt Lake Tribune, lighted his cigar, picked up his check, and went over to the counter to pay it.

None of the gentlemen’s actions sparked any apparent interest among the other restaurant patrons. Certainly no one—with the possible exception of Mr. J. J. Burke, a Salt Lake contracting engineer—suspected them of any overt criminal activity. As they smoked, chatted, and pondered the upcoming afternoon’s affairs—or, in McKay’s case, waited impatiently for the counterman to tally up the bill—they remained completely unaware that they were only a few minutes away from a calamity that not only would make them the outraged subjects of a public spectacle but also would result in their good names being bandied about in newspapers across the country. Had they suspected they were in such danger they easily could have destroyed the incriminating evidence with a simple twist of thumb and forefinger. But they did not, and a few moments later, even before the ash on Bamberger’s cigar required attention, they were caught flagrante delicto by Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputies Michael Mauss and John Harris.

The two deputies entered the Vienna Café at half-past noon and walked directly to the table occupied by Bamberger and Lynch, where they displayed their badges and promptly placed the men under arrest. While Deputy Harris stood guard over the pair, Deputy Mauss walked to the rear of the café, where he arrested Newhouse. Eccles, Newhouses luncheon companion, escaped arrest only by gesticulating with an unlighted cigarette and proving to the deputy that although he had obviously intended to commit a crime, he had not yet done so, and therefore was not subject to arrest. Deputy Mauss agreed.

Meanwhile, McKay, who had finally succeeded in paying his lunch bill and was preparing to leave the café, was loudly denounced as a co-offender by Mr. Burke, who pointed a finger at the departing McKay and told Deputy Harris that he also should be arrested. Perhaps fearing an escape attempt by Bamberger and Lynch, Deputy Harris made no move to apprehend the fleeing newspaperman.

The two deputies then escorted their three protesting prisoners through the highly agitated throng of customers and onlookers (the Vienna Café may have been unpretentious, but arrests on the premises were uncommon enough to generate a great deal of excitement). Since no patrol car was available, Mr. Bamberger, Mr. Lynch, and Mr. Newhouse were then marched down Main Street, in full and humiliating view of friends, business associates, and passers-by, to the county jail some blocks away, where they were charged and booked like so many common criminals.

Which they were, since they—along with McKay, who as a result of some rather undignified snitching by his accomplices in crime was soon to become the object of a similar criminal complaint—openly had violated Section 4, Chapter 145, of the Utah state code. The four men had been smoking in an enclosed public place.

There is considerably more to this story—more arrests, mass meetings, the eventual surrender of McKay, and so on, all of which will be discussed later. But the most interesting aspect of the incident is not that several otherwise law-abiding citizens were arrested for committing such a widespread and popular crime, nor even that they were sufficiently prominent in the community to ensure a great deal of bad publicity for the state of Utah. What is most interesting about the incident at the Vienna Café is simply the year in which it occurred—1923. For despite widespread belief to the contrary, tobacco smoking’s sorry reputation did not begin with Surgeon General Luther Terry’s famous 1964 report, which as we will see was actually a rather mild document in comparison with earlier works on the subject. Nor is the recent legislative attack on smoking a modern phenomenon, since by the time Mr. Bamberger and his colleagues lighted their ill-fated smokes more than a dozen states had passed laws that make today’s legislative antismoking efforts seem almost benign. The fact is that the truly golden age of the antismoking movement in America began in the 1880’s, when a new and deadly manifestation of the smoking habit first apeared in large numbers on the American scene. It ended four decades later, during a Tuesday lunch hour at the Vienna Café.