Thank You For Not Smoking

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Gaston had fallen on hard times since the war. In December of 1919 a coup d’état at International Anti-Cigarette League headquarters forced her to resign as league superintendent. She was not about to go away, however; the next day she announced her candidacy for President of the United States on the “clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement” platform. Although Gaston actually filed in the South Dakota Republican primary, she soon dropped out of the presidential campaign and set about reorganizing the old National Anti-Cigarette League. In 1920 she invaded Kansas and led a drive for strict enforcement of Kansas’ anticigarette law; Kansas law-enforcement authorities, harassed into action, made a few perfunctory arrests. Gaston also wrote public letters to President-elect Warren G. Harding and to Queen Mary, urging them to quit smoking cigarettes. Finally she proved to be more than even upright Kansas could handle; in January, 1921, an embarrassed Kansas Anti-Cigarette League fired her, and Gaston set out for a new campaign in Iowa. A few months later the National Anti-Cigarette League board of directors, noting that what Gaston called her “Carry Nation tactics” were no longer the most effective means of fighting the cigarette evil, also fired her. At sixty-one, after twenty-five years of anticigarette campaigning, Lucy Page Gaston was out of a job.

Despite all the postwar antismoking activity, the movement seemed to be foundering. Between 1919 and 1921 Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, and Tennessee repealed their ineffective cigarette prohibition laws, and in 1921 the Idaho legislature first passed, and then almost immediately repealed, a ban on cigarette sales. In fact, only one state enacted a new, prohibitory anticigarette and antismoking law during the postwar antismoking campaign. That state was Utah.

 

Utah had banned cigarette sales to minors in 1896, but although cigarette prohibition bills were considered in later years, Utah generally muddled through the pre-war crusade without actively joining in. The postwar revival of that crusade found congenial ground in the state, however, particularly within the powerful Mormon church, and in 1920 a church publication hinted that the time had come for all-out war. By February, 1921, the church had lined up enough support to secure easy passage of a bill prohibiting cigarette sales, cigarette advertising, and smoking in any form in certain “enclosed public places,” such as government offices, theaters, and—more germane to this article—cafés and restaurants. The bill sailed through the legislature with little public comment—no one really expected it to be enforced anyway—and was signed by Governor Charles Mabey. By June, 1921, cigarette sales and public after-dinner smokes were illegal in Utah, but as expected the new law affected Utah smokers hardly at all. Restaurant and theater proprietors seemed unwillingly to enforce it themselves, and the sheriff’s office and the police department bickered over who would have the thankless task. In the end, no one enforced it.

In 1922, however, Mormon church president Heber J. Grant urged Mormon voters to elect officials who would promise to enforce the new laws. Benjamin R. Harries vowed to do just that, and in November, 1922, he was elected Salt Lake County sheriff. Soon after he took office, Sheriff Harries ordered a number of raids on suspected cigarette dealers, whereupon the dealers paid homage to the law by hiding their cigarettes and charging bootleg prices for them. Sheriff Harries obviously decided that more dramatic measures were required, because on February 20, 1923, Mr. Bamberger, Mr. Lynch, and Mr. Newhouse found themselves in jail.

As if their march down Main Street had not been humiliating enough, the three men were then informed that each would have to post a ten-dollar bond before he could be let go. The implication that so measly a sum could substitute for their word of honor was simply too much; an argument ensued. The three finally were released on their own recognizance by Judge Noel S. Pratt, but not before they had chided deputies Mauss and Harris for not also arresting McKay. That did not help them, but it did result in another complaint being sworn. It was served by telephone, and McKay promised to surrender himself the next morning. Later that day Newhouse told a newspaper reporter that the entire affair was a “frame-up” and a political ploy by Sheriff Harries and his “asinine deputies.” Sheriff Harries dismissed the accusations as “bosh” and ordered his deputies to continue to enforce the law. The next day several deputies raided the Hotel Utah grill room and the state capitol (where the legislature was in session) and arrested six more smokers. The deputies were disappointed when they could find no smoking legislators to arrest.