- Historic Sites
Thank You For Not Smoking
THE HUNDRED-YEAR WAR AGAINST THE CIGARETTE
February/march 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 2
The Salt Lake business community, then in the midst of a promotional campaign to attract new commerce and industry to the area, was horrified, not only by the arrests themselves but even more so by the awful publicity the entire episode had generated. Within twenty-four hours snickering news accounts of the Salt Lake antismoking campaign had been plastered across newspaper pages from New York to San Francisco, and already there were reports that scheduled conventions in the city would be canceled if it continued. While restaurant and café owners posted signs reading “Look Out for Mike and John”—meaning deputies Mauss and Harris—or, more defiantly, “Dine and Smoke Here,” members of the Salt Lake chamber of commerce met to plan a course of action. They soon were joined by representatives of the Salt Lake Lions Club, the Utah Manufacturers Association, and others. A few days later, as steam whistles throughout the city were sounded to protest the controversial laws, the prosmoking faction convened a standing-room-only meeting at the Orpheum Theater. “From coast to coast and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, Utah today is the object of ridicule,” one businessman told the crowd. Others compared the meeting to the Boston Tea Party as a symbol of resistance to oppression. The formation of a new political party—“The Party of Freedom”—was announced, and Salt Lake City seemed about to be rent asunder by the issue.
The pressure finally proved too much for even the strongest supporters of the antismoking laws. Within a week the Deseret News , a Mormon publication, signaled partial surrender by endorsing a pending revision of the laws to allow cigarette sales to adults and reduce greatly the restrictions on public smoking. The amendment bill streaked through the legislature and was signed by a no doubt relieved Governor Mabey. Charges against Bamberger and his partners in crime were dropped. The Utah crusade was over.
The Utah anticigarette law was the last of its kind; although North Dakota and Kansas kept theirs until 1925 and 1927, respectively, they were never seriously enforced, Utah having demonstrated that strict enforcement caused more problems than no enforcement at all. There were periodic calls for the abolition of cigarettes and smoking by the WCTU, the Non-Smokers League, and others, but they never amounted to much; by the mid-1920’s legislative action against smoking by adults had been thoroughly discredited. Antismoking emphasis shifted to women and children. The movement lost its most dedicated campaigner in 1924, when Lucy Page Gaston was struck by a streetcar as she left an anticigarette meeting in Chicago. She miraculously survived the accident to die eight months later of throat cancer. A delegation of schoolchildren recited the Clean Life Pledge at her funeral.
Cigarette sales continued to climb, reaching the magical 100-billion-a-year mark in 1928. Organized antismoking activity virtually disappeared in the 1930’s and 1940’s, save for occasional pronouncements by religious groups and some barbed attacks by the Reader’s Digest . By the 1950’s medical evidence against cigarettes began to reach mildly alarming proportions; in response, cigarettes sprouted filters and the tobacco companies began to diversify into nontobacco products. In 1964 Surgeon General Luther Terry dropped his bombshell, and smokers began to worry. Cigarettes once again became the object of legislative action; packs carried health warnings, and the Marlboro Man rode off the television screen and onto the back covers of magazines. Nonsmokers began to demand smoke-free air in public, and states passed “indoor clean air acts.” In 1976 the Utah legislature passed the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act, which prohibits smoking in certain “enclosed indoor areas, such as stores, offices, hospitals, and restaurants. So far the antismoking law has been generally ignored, due to a lack of funds for enforcement, and some Utah smokers continue to violate the law after every public meal.
State officials are planning a crackdown.