Tobacco Memories

Guest post from BCC’s friend Elouise

Tobacco came into my life early. We lived with my grandparents during the Depression–my parents, my brothers and I. The women and children in this household were church-going Methodists, the men, Jack Methodists. The small house was cramped, but times were hard; people did what they had to do. Gramps brewed his own beer; Mom worked as a practical nurse; Dad saved money by rolling his own cigarettes. At five, I learned how to operate the little machine that produced his smokes.

Hand-rolling may have been a sacrifice for Dad, but it was a delightful game for me. First the ultra-thin slips of cigarette paper tucked into the trough of the roller. Then just the right amount of Bugler tobacco –no spilling!–tamped in on top, evenly from end to end. (The light blue tobacco can, with its logo of a uniformed WWI bugler on the front, is still bright in this mind’s eye.) Lick my finger and wet the pre-glued side of the paper; crank the roller, and out comes the finished product! No leathery Havana cigar-maker, wrapping his stogies with a skill sculpted over decades, could have been prouder of his handiwork.

Just as almost every Western woman, according to folklorist Rayna Green, has her “first tampon” story, so most gentiles, and many Mormons as well, I would guess, have “first cigarette” memories. Mine seemed a natural progression from rolling Dad’s smokes. Except that it wasn’t a cigarette. By the time I was 10, the economy was doing better because of The War. Dad could buy ready-made Camels (20 cents a pack) as well as tins of Prince Albert pipe tobacco. (Generations of kids thought it howlingly cool to phone some beleaguered store and ask if they carried Prince Albert in a can. If told yes, you then yelled, “Well, let him OUT!” just before banging down the receiver.)

Deciding that 10 was old enough to smoke, I simply trooped around the house and picked Dad’s butts out of the ashtrays. I also confiscated his well-used, rarely cleaned pipe. Easy enough, then, to slit the cigarette paper, winnow out the remaining tobacco, and stuff the gleanings into the bowl of his pipe. (I guess the pipe seemed more exotic than the now-familiar cigarettes.) Light up, sit back, puff away. I had just finished supper, including a tasty slice of cherry pie; now I was enjoying an after-dinner pipe. Uh-oh: what’s this? Very suddenly, neither the cherry pie nor the pilfered pipe seemed enjoyable at all,and I got rid of both faster than one can say “regurgitate.”

That really was the end of tobacco’s temptation for me; later, when teen-aged friends started lighting up, I just shook my head. I did not, on the other hand, give up cherry pie.

Years later,on my mission among the heathen French, as one puzzled gentile friend put it, my senior companion and I called several times on a certain Frere Dupont, who had been baptized years earlier but whose burning in the bosom had cooled, leaving no live coals that we could detect. Nonetheless, every new set of missionaries had to give the rekindling a try.

Frere Dupont was a smoker; he especially enjoyed smoking when the missionaries came to call. On our first visit, my senior, the backslider and I sat around a table chatting, just getting acquainted. Frere was expounding on some dark, existential labyrinth. The ash on his thin cigarette grew longer and longer. Habit kicked in, and without thinking, I did as I had done a hundred times at home. I reached for an ashtray on my side of the table and placed it by his hand. He continued his discourse, but those Gallic eyes flickered.

This casual gesture did not, of course, change his ways. But he did, later, philosophize dryly on the “Mormon” virtue of acceptance and respect despite differences. And oddly enough, he began showing up occasionally at sacrament meeting. Not often–just enough to tease each new set of missionaries. And always, the aroma of his tabac over-powered even the elders’ after-shave.

Any other tobacco memories out there?


  1. A pack to a pack and a half a day for ten years.

    I had quit smoking five years before, and had a particularly stressful lunch break, full of errands and traffic snarls. I got back to work, dropped my purse on my desk and started digging. After a short minute, I stopped and thought. What was I digging for?

    Five years after quitting, I was looking for a cigarette.

    In my early 20’s, I was famous in my social circle for my rolling ability, but the plant we used was not legal then, nor now.

    Life changed a lot when I got baptized.

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Alas, I don’t have much to offer on this topic. I did have a companion who couldn’t talk about the Word of Wisdom for more than 5 seconds without droning on and on and on about how tobacco was meant to be used to heal wounds, and had some other purpose involving animals (I forget what). I must have heard that speech like 500 times. I wanted to clock him upside the head and say “So what?” Why was that so important to him? Why did he think anyone else would or should care? Unfortunately, I didn’t really speak the language, so I chose to shut up and endure it. The horror.

    Aaron B

  3. Elouise, you’re making me miss the smell of Gauloises lingering around my school. Tobacco’s not for the belly, but it’s definitely a part of the mind and memory for me.

  4. Kristine says:

    I’ve always loved the smell of pipe smoke. I remember the day I suddenly realized during a Primary lesson on the W of W that I couldn’t marry someone who smoked a pipe if I was going to marry a Mormon. I was one keenly disappointed 10-year-old romantic!

  5. Mark IV says:

    When I read the biography of Spencer W. Kimball, I was delighted to learn that he and Camilla did the Prince Albert in a can joke to their friends well into adulthood.

    I guess that’s what we Mormons do when we rally want to let our hair down.

  6. Elisabeth says:

    My English grandmother smoked until she died at age 85. She was a wonderful woman, and I miss her dearly. I can still recall her deep, smooth smoker’s voice, as she told me stories while she brushed my hair when I was a little girl.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Having grown up a good little Mormon boy, I don’t have any real tobacco memories. But I do have a faux one.

    On my mission to Colorado in the late 70s, we found this guy who was living the high bachelor life. He had been raised LDS, and I’m sure his name was still on the rolls somewhere, but he was sowing his wild oats. At one time he had been an Elders Quorum President, and he had a row of LDS books on his bookshelf, including several of Skousen’s Thousand Years volumes. But he was trying really hard to be a playa with the ladies in the apartment complex, and apparently succeeding.

    He had these cigarettes that weren’t made of real tobacco, but of cocoa beans or some such thing. Apparently actors who couldn’t smoke used them when playing a character that had to smoke on stage. This guy wanted to look all gentile, but he still had enough Mormon in him that he went with fake cigs rather than the real ones.

    Anyway, he gave us a pack, so my companion and I had a great time smoking fake cigarettes the rest of the day, and totally freaking out the other missionaries. Good times.

  8. I smoked for close to 10 years, starting when I was about 24. I loved it. It’s the most fun anyone can have on a daily basis with fire. I was a really good smoker, too. None of those light cigarettes for me–full flavor all the way. I smoked Nat Shermans; There’s a photo here.

    Don’t they look tasty?

  9. prior to meeting the missionaries, I was an avid pipe andd cigar smoker. Saturday was the smoking day for us at our featernity, and we would get dressed up in formal wear, and we would adjourn to the “smoking parlour” in the frat house and light up. I enjoyed those sessions – we were relaxed, and we talked to each other about stuff, discussed philosophy and puffed away. I miss those days of being around friends, just talking about various ideas, discussing things in a relaxed9physically), but in an intellectually serious manner. I miss not being able to have such type of discussions with my LDS friends. Seems they dont want to discuss or talk about anything – seem to be worried that discussing various ideas will make them loose their faith.
    So, I do miss those wonderful discussions, and the intellectual stimulation they offered. Plus, good pipe tobacco in a good pipe, I miss that too!! :=)

  10. smoking parlour.. good pipe tobacco… Ronin you were a Hobbit, weren’t you!

  11. Ronin,
    We’re all smoking Cubans here at BCC. Can’t you smell it?

  12. I thought those were Dominicans, Ronan. Either that or it’s tomacco.

  13. I’ve never smoked; it isn’t even a possibility, as I’m allergic to tobacco smoke. Nonetheless, the smell of tobacco is firmly associated in my mind with fun. Cigarettes are the smell of rock concerts and clubs; I rarely smell them when I’m not already having a good time. Granted, they make me itch, my eyes water, and my throat go dry and hoarse. But they also make me smile…

  14. Growing up in a pretty observant Mormon home, I have no ‘memories’ of tobacco (as in nostalgia-inducing). Any memories I have of seeing people smoke or smelling tobacco as a kid are of me thinking ‘that guy/girl is doing something wrong.’

    However, I did smoke for almost exactly one year of my life. The reason it lasted for almost exactly a year is this: I never made a conscious decision to be a smoker, but just gradually became one and became addicted to nicotine. So when I hit the year mark, for some reason it hit me since it had been a full year, smoking was no longer something I just did; I was a smoker. And that scared me enough to just quit. I also realized it was affecting me physically, but mainly it was just the scary thought I no longer smoked for enjoyment, and I didn’t want to be a smoker.

  15. Ed Snow says:

    James Talmage sometimes smoked cigars to relieve nerves and constipation–ordered by the doctor to do so and Heber J. Grant concurred. Typing that’s about as close as I ever got.

    Delightful stuff Elouise.

  16. There’s a certain kind of cigarette that I smelled terribly often on my mission in France. And although all smoke plays havoc on me, I always get nostalgic for France on those rare occasions I smell “French” cigarettes in the US.

  17. Mission smoke was always marijuana emanating from the woods. Cigarette smoke is the aroma of a college football Saturday (outside of Provo, of course), and I must say, I take guilty pleasure in that aroma. Cigar smoke is the aroma of lawyers after work. I take no pleasure in that.

  18. Aaron B says:

    DKL, I was hoping to see a photo of you, smoking.

    Aaron B

  19. Steve Evans says:

    AB, here you go!

  20. This reminds me of Bach’s Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker.

    I hated cigarettes as a kid. Like, RT, they always made me sneeze and my eyes got itchy and red.

  21. Altered Cigar Box

    This is as close as I got. It looks alot less dorky in real life; the altered book/item “movement” is fun, I think. It is so LIBERATING to take ink, stamps, and other media to the pages of a book . . . you feel naughty!

    On the other hand, I had no guilt at all about altering the cigar box. It was my first effort, though, I’d change the oval on front if I could.

    I’d love to do more, I would go into the Smoke! shops, and the like, and ask if they had any empty cigar boxes. Several places would give them to me, but some would sell them for $1-$5 per each, especially for the nice wooden ones.

    It felt so WIERD going into those shops!!!

  22. LOL, Steve. Funny photo. The resemblance really is striking.

    Aaron, you bring up photos of me smoking, and it’s a funny thing. Plus, it brings back a couple good tobacco memories. My wife never liked to take photos of me when I was holding a cigarette, so that I actually have very few photos of me smoking.

    But, my when my brother-in-law got married, the wedding organizers put disposable cameras on every table at the reception. The intent was that after the reception they’d get them all developed and they’d have a lot of fun photos of the guests. Throughout the reception, I would occasionally go outside to grab a smoke (Mormon wedding receptions don’t have a bar, so there was no place to smoke indoors–I hate what the 90s did to smoking). My other brother-in-laws followed me outside when I went smoking to shoot the breeze with me (my wife has 4 brothers). We were joking around and one of them thought to grab one of the disposable cameras. We proceeded to make two dozen pretty ridiculous photos of me in a (custom tailored) suit, smoking a cigarette in a variety of poses. These ranged the gamut from exquisitely posed to completely casual to tough guy to reflective. I got to see the photos a few months later, and they were a very funny set.

  23. Dave fails to mention that that set of photos has since received wide circulation on the internet, and some measure of notoriety. A complete set of them is a pretty penny in internet currency. In fact, with just a bit of patience and brinksmanship, I was able to trade my own (incomplete) set of DKL-smoke pics to a kid at an internet cafe somewhere in Singapore for a set of GPOW. (The armor was probably a dupe — but hey, so were the pictures).

  24. You shouldn’t have traded for anything less than a set of Mandalorian Armor from SWG . . . .

  25. Left Field says:

    My paternal grandfather told the story of his tobacco experience from a few generations ago when the word of wisdom was considered a little more optional than it is now. Grandpa served a mission in Australia and shortly after his return was called as bishop. I’m not sure where this story fits into that timeline, but at some point in his youth he decided he wanted to chew. For reasons unknown, he began his new habit while eating bananas. He reported that he became so sick that he never touched tobacco or bananas again.

    A maternal great grandfather (whose middle name I inherited as my own) owned a general store in a small Utah town. In addition to his name, I also inherited a 1904 edition of the Book of Mormon with his signature and imprinted with his business stamp: “Dealer in Confectionary, Fruits, Soda Water, Cigars & Tobaccos.” It’s one of my prized posessions.

  26. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    Any pleasant tobacco memories I may have had from my childhood were completely eclipsed by the memory of holding my mother’s hand for a week as she lay in intensive care slowly suffocating from emphysema.

  27. Tobacco… the stuff that kept my classmates out of school in February, so they could seed it, in March, so they could set it under black plastic sheets in the fields, in the fall, so they could harvest it and dry it and form it into ‘hands’ to take to market, where their sacrifice of endless summer sunburns from hoeing it – and all the lost days of school tending it – was transformed into maybe a couple thousand dollars. Merry Christmas. Nothing, short of pot, paid so well on so little land. Hope and tradition and a trap, all at once.

    People may get all het up over sweatshops and such overseas. But I doubt that those who smoke know the travails – in the US – that go into producing their habit-satifiers.

  28. I’ve said this before, you should put a carton of cigarettes in your emergency kit, the cheap kind without filters. They will be invaluable as a bartering tool should Katrina II hit.

    My 27 year old daughter already has the beginning of emphysema. It’s not a religious issue, but I sure worry about her health. We’ve tried hypnosis and nicorette. Now we’re trying NAET.

  29. My dad has been a chain smoker for 40 years now. My mother and brothers and I were all active in the church, but my dad never was (due primarily to his WoW issues and addictive behaviors). You would think that I would have become accustom to it and not minded it so much. Such was not the case. My dad and I fought constantly about him smoking in the house and in the car. It stunk and I was slightly allergic. Looking back on it, I fell a little bad for “making” him go out on the front porch in below freezing weather to satisfy his needs – or for tearing up the cigarettes that he could barely afford. But I was his egocentric pre-teen daughter – and he didn’t have to listen to me if he didn’t want to. I know more fully now that smoking and alcoholism are his heartbreaking and shameful manifestation of much deeper issues. Thus, another candle added to my Shrine of Guilt for the way I treated him when I was young and foolish.

    To this day the stale sent of generic cigarette smoke mixed with motor oil nearly brings me to tears with heavy nostalgia of my father.

  30. Elouise says:

    Wow! Some very interesting tobacco memories, Consenters! Thank you.

    As to the French-smelling cigarettes, Ben, could they have been Gaulois? Or Gitanes?

    Annegb and Floyd the Wonderdog: my dad died of emphysema, seven years after my mother died from heart problems. MY guilt comes from realizing, now, too late, how terribly lonely those seven years must have been for him, living alone, and how little I did to assuage that. I honestly believe he would have lived for years more had my mother lived, despite the cigarettes.

    Sara, as to father-daughter wrangles over the issue: a dear college chum, devout Mormon lass, when she was about 14, “caught” her dad behind an outbuilding at the end of their field. Outraged, she carried on with righteous indignation to her mother, who quickly pinned her ears back, praising this man whose nicotined hands had worked at two jobs to raise the family, who sent the daughter to church camp, paid for piano lessons and Jantzen sweaters and more, and whose yellowed hands had never once been raised in anger to anyone. I think Joanne got the point–she sure had a fine rapport with her dad when I knew her.

    My mother joined the church while I was on my mission; she had been invited there by Elizabeth, the mother of a college chum. Both women were married to smokers; neither had ever smoked herself. Sitting side by side in church, each woman opened her purse at the same time. Great wafts of tobacco smell rose from their pew, causing raised eyebrows and wrinkled noses for rows and rows. How their pristine purses could hold that much stink, they never understood.

  31. I know a few people who have died of cancer after smoking their entire life. I suppose that they had some regrets. I hope not. It’s not like they weren’t doing anything riskier than anyone else was doing–it’s just that we’ve been taught to play extra-special-close attention to anyone who’s malady can be traced back to tobacco by a smear campaign that makes McCarthyism look mild.

    A friend of mine in high school was from the waist down in a fairly small car accident (3 other people in the car walked away). I know a guy who broke his back while helping a friend make an amateur film; he had to have his vertebrae fused and he has chronic back pain. I know a few people who don’t exercise that have already had heart attacks by the time they reach 50.

    Look, I’m sorry that people get sick and all, but I really don’t have any patience for all this blubbering about people who died from tobacco.

    So I’ve get a better idea: Why don’t we start a thread on the dangers of driving. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who dried driving. And driving pollutes our environment way worse than tobacco. We could post pictures of ugly people in ugly cars, and then everyone could take that tragic-but-self-righteous tone about how sad it is that people drive when it so obviously destroys lives and cheats our families out of time with their loved ones.

  32. I hope I didn’t give the wrong impression. I never condemned my dad for smoking. We just argued about the second hand smoke and us kids having to smell like it when he smoked in the house or in the car. That’s all. He would give anything to be able to quit (and had tried several times). In no way to I look down on him for it…I was just sharing my memories.

  33. Mark B. says:

    My tobacco memories run back to my early years in New York, before the enlightenment arrived and forced the smokers out into the alleys.

    What a relief it is to not have foul-smelling tobacco smoke filling offices or restaurants! There were days when I’d come home sick from breathing other people’s smoke, when my suits couldn’t go in the closet because they smelled so bad that they’d make the rest of my clothes stink.

    Then there were the lovely weekend days in the office, when the ventilation wasn’t on and the stale tobacco in the carpets and drapes would remind you of a cheap motel room (in those dark benighted days when there was no such thing as a non-smoking room).

    And not to forget the consideration our smoking friends had for fellow passengers in airplanes. I flew first class a few times, when the first two or three rows were the non-smoking section and the back row was the smoking section. A whole lotta good that did, having four human chimneys smoking two feet behind me. Maybe if the pilot had opened a window up front, and a vent in the back, to get some 500 mph flow through ventilation–then all would have been well.

    Way back before then, there was the father of one of the boys in our scout troop, the publisher of the local paper, who drove us up to the Uintas for scout camp. A cool July morning, especially after we climbed up out of Utah Valley into Heber and then into the Uintah Basin–to cool to open the windows. But our driver smoked the whole way. Thought I was gonna die.

    But, if someone wants to smoke, I’m not going to go around pointing fingers and thinking he’s a moral degenerate. But, I’d like him to be downwind of me, and not to throw his butts on the sidewalk, and stay out of enclosed spaces where I might be.

  34. Somehow, I think good jazz sounds better in a smoke-filled lounge—maybe b/c it effectively distances itself from its elevator-variety cousin….

  35. Age fifteen in 1989, riding around in a green 1967 Plymouth with a bunch of really cute (I thought) New Wave type boys, all smoking except me. Feeling really lucky to be riding around with cute boys. Coming home and reporting to my sleepy parents like the good girl I really was.

    “Did you have a good time?” my dad asked. On my affirmative reply, he said, “Great. Hang your clothes in the garage before you go to bed.”

    This has always been my evidence that my parents trusted me. They never even asked me if I was smoking myself. I never was.

  36. Tom Manney says:

    Though raised in a more or less “good” Mormon home, I had a non-member grandpa who smoked, and I loved the smell of secondhand smoke. Always have. Reminds me of airports and apartment complex hallways from my childhood.

    The idea that you could sit back and light up something that relaxes you has always been very attractive to me. I’m jealous of all the tobacco addicts at work who are compelled to drop everything they are doing and go sit outside for ten to fifteen minutes every two hours and soak in a few rays and clear their heads if not their lungs.

    I spent my mission (mid-90s) teaching a lot of burned out hippies in ski and college towns in Colorado and was utterly fascinated with the colorful pipes and psychedelic blacklight posters in the numerous head shops I encountered (and explored in my civvies on p-days). I went home with an insatiable curiosity about all things psychadelic and started having recurring dreams about taking up pot smoking. In the dreams, it would elevate me to another plane, a place of happiness and relaxation that I did not know in real life.

    Scroll forward ten years and I’m trying to support a wife and several kids in a very stressful job when I start suffering from frequent aches and pains that almost cost me my job. I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a trendy, catch-all diagnosis for chronic pain, if you ask me), but doctors aren’t interested in giving me anything effective to curb the pain. So I made a call to my brother (a recovering hard drug addict) to hook me up with his former acquaintances, and I have been a closet pot smoker for two years now.

    I have a small glass bong and a tiny glass pipe. The bong is stronger but the pipe is very discreet. When I hurt, pot takes the weight out of my bones, and it helps me not care that I hurt so much. When I don’t use it, I don’t crave it, and there are no withdrawals. Unlike the prescription meds, it doesn’t give me nausea or headaches. My wife is very understanding about my predicament, and life has been good.

    Unfortunately, I’m now in a job where I am on the radar screen of some of the local political players, and small town politics here are really nasty. The sheriff and the party machine both keep files on everyone. Maybe it’s just the pot making me paranoid, but I suspect I’m going to have to settle for something more legal to treat my pain, and that’s a deeply depressing prospect for me.

  37. I’ve always loved the smell of second-hand smoke. Since I stopped smoking, I always slow down and breath deeply when I pass smokers on the street.

    Rather than sit around and complain about not being able to quit, people who don’t enjoy the cigarettes they’re smoking should find another brand. Tobacco is a vegetable and there are higher and lower quality forms as well as better and worse ways to process it. And “light” or “low tar” tobacco products don’t taste any better than “light” pancake syrup. Honestly, I don’t know how people expect light cigarettes or bargain cigarettes to provide a satisfying smoke.

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating:

    Far from being anti-social or filthy, smoking has been a tradition in western society for more than 400 years. It symbolizes leisure, relaxation, fortitude, success, amorousness, nonchalance, and (more recently) defiance. Americans have been naturally inclined to think that smoking is glamorous quite simply because it is glamorous. Shakespeare’s contemporaries wrote poems about it. Sir Walter Raleigh smoked. Errol Flynn smoked. Clark Gable smoked. Spencer Tracy smoked. John Wayne smoked. James Dean smoked. Gary Cooper smoked. Steve McQueen smoked. Franklin Roosevelt smoked. Ronald Reagan did a cigarette ad for Chesterfield. Who can picture Frank Sinatra or Humphrey Bogart without a cigarette? Harrison Ford smokes in “American Graffiti.” Paul Newman smokes in “Cool Hand Luke.” Clint Eastwood smokes in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Bruce Willis smokes in “Die Hard.” Mel Gibson smokes in “Lethal Weapon.” James Bond smoked in the original movies and novels. Even James Stewart smokes in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Note well: Tobacco companies don’t pay for characters to smoke in movies; they pay to have their brand of cigarette associated with characters who already smoke. (The neo-puritans would have us believe that smoking has resonated with westerners for more than 400 years because of the tobacco industry’s shrewd marketing.)

    What really burns me, though, is the tobacco litigation. Whatever costs need to be recouped by society so that tobacco companies can be considered square vis a vis their societal obligation, it should be assessed by the legislature in the form of taxes. Using the court to impose penalties is nothing more than using the judiciary as a tax collector–and one that has no accountability whatever (part of why I believe that most sitting judges should be impeached and thrown out of office is that they believe that stuff like this is appropriate). And, the taxes, such as they are, should be lower. But that’s a different topic.

  38. Elisabeth says:

    DKL, All these cool people you mention (James Bond, Errol Flynn, etc.) weren’t cool because they smoked – they were/are cool regardless of whether or not they voluntarily injested carcinogens on a daily basis. You don’t have to smoke to be cool. But you know this, since you’ve chosen not to smoke – and your quitting smoking has not negatively affected your coolness (or your success, your glamourous image – and definitely not your nonchalance).

    Also, I dare say that despite its glamourous and extensive history, the tradition of smoking isn’t worth perpetuating – particularly in light of incontrovertible medical evidence that smoking is an extremely unhealthy (and smelly) habit.

  39. Dave,

    Have you actually read any of the court cases on tobacco? Try it some time. Some tobacco litigation is based on novel ideas, but a lot of it is straightforward fraud. Tobacco companies knew, forty years ago, that tobacco increased likelihood of cancer. They did not disclose this, and in fact did the opposite — when asked about the health risks of tobacco, they made a lot of direct statements that directly contracdicted their actual knowledge. They knew their products were harmful, and they made a number of direct lies to hide that fact and sell more ciggies.

    That’s fraud, and fraud that hurts people may be actionable. If you think _that_ is grounds for impeachment, then you’re further gone than I had thought.

    As for accountability of judges, it varies widely. Federal judges are appointed by the president, so once they pass an initial hurdle they are relatively well insulated from removal (though initial appointment requires some scrutiny, and even after appointment, impeachment is still available).

    However, the vast majority of tobacco litigation takes place in state court. (Most claims are simple torts, nothing federal about them). And many state court judges face election regularly. The method of appointment or election of state court judges varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and it’s true that some state court judges are more well insulated than others. However, many state judges in many jurisdictions are very much subject to the will of the electurate. Thus, your broad-brush statement about judges in tobacco litigation having no accountability is almost certainly incorrect.

  40. Elisabeth says:

    The Insider is an excellent (if overwrought) portrayal of some of the story behind the tobacco litigation, and Russell Crowe’s finest movie.

  41. I’ve seen that movie. It’s pretty propagandistic.

    Kaimi, I’ve read extensively about the case, and I’m quite familiar with the costume of legitimacy that the judges use to mask there sham decisions.

    The pretense of fraud doesn’t hold, because it makes nearly every producer of a consumable product liable fro fraud. Dairy farmers don’t disclose anything about their product that they don’t have to either, and when I was a kid, the free materials that the Dairy Council (the propaganda arm of the dairy industry) sent around to educate children about nutrition contained advice to eat ice cream and butter as a good sources of nutrition.

    No matter what rhetoric you use to frame the issue, at bottom the issue is this: The states were claiming damages for which the common, accepted remedy is (and should be) a usage tax. Making the tobacco pay damages for public health costs is like making truckers pay court damages for the extra wear-and-tear they cause to roads.

  42. David, everybody dies. Sometimes it’s a tragedy, like a car accident OR MY DAUGHTER GETTING EMPHYSEMA AT THE AGE OF 27. Just because somebody else died tragically doesn’t make it less of a tragedy.

    But I share what I think is your feeling that smokers must bear some responsibility for their illnesses. I’m not totally behind suing the tobacco companies. Although they did market to kids.

    You know, though, both my sisters started smoking about 14 years ago. They were in their late thirties. That’s sort of unusual.

  43. Dave,

    Your #41 really doesn’t help you.

    First, there have been dozens of major tobacco cases; it’s not a “case.” There have been state tort claims, federal claims, class action claims, criminal cases, attorney general actions, medicare actions, insurance indemnification actions, qui tam actions, and a dozen other kinds of claims.

    Second, you seem to have tort claims mixed up with attorney general actions. You write about judges’ decisions, but you then talk about states seeking compensation for public health costs, as if this is all the same. Dave, the state AG actions weren’t decided by a judge. The tobacco companies chose to settle those. So I’m curious what “sham decisions” you’re talking about. There were AG claims that were settled; there have been tort claims by individual smokers, there have been a whole lot of other kinds of claims. They’re not all the same; not all of them seek recoupment of health care costs; not all of them have involved judicial decisions.

    And despite your odd assertion about milk, the case for consumer fraud in tobacco is pretty clear. If I sell you a product under false representations, I may be liable for fraud. What’s so controversial about that?

    If I sell you a car, having tinkered with the odometer, shouldn’t I be liable? If you ask how many miles the car has on it, and I lie in order to sell it to you, then you have a fraud claim. Simple.

    Tobacco companies lied about their product. They had a product that caused cancer, and they knew it. People asked “is there any evidence that it causes cancer?” and tobacco companies affirmatively lied in order to sell their product. That’s fraud; no two ways about it. Your “oh no, that’s every seller everywhere” rhetoric completely misses the point: Any seller who lies about their products in order to sell them IS committing fraud. That’s what consumer fraud is. If someone is selling something, they can’t lie about it. Not so hard. If you’d like to change the definition of fraud in any particular jurisdiction, you should take it up with the legislature.

    (I’ll note as well that you’ve completely avoided any follow up on your “accountability” claims).

  44. Elisabeth says:

    Rhetoric aside, the tobacco companies should have been held responsible for the costs of their fraud on the market. Going forward, I agree with you – cigarettes should cost at least $100 per pack.

    (I get your point, but I can’t believe you’re comparing the purveyors of death with the purveyors of dairy!)

  45. Elisabeth, more people die of heart disease than die of cancer, and dairy fat is a major contributing factor. The only thing that makes this seem like a poor comparison is your own preconceived notion about the wholesomeness of dairy products. Read Diet for a New America if you want to learn more about the low-down tactics that the dairy and egg industry use to make their products seem fine (e.g., it’s full of interesting facts like the correlation between eating eggs as a child and getting breast cancer as an adult.)

    Kaimi, the settlement was based on the perceived willingness of the court to assign penalties. Before the 1990s, tobacco had been sued repeatedly and always won. What changed? It wasn’t the info about tobacco. Contrary to what you say, people knew that tobacco was bad for you long before any evidence was accumulated within the tobacco industry or elsewhere.

    Second, I’ll make a surprising claim that is actually rather intuitive once you understand it: There’s no real scientific sense in which smoking causes cancer. The surgeon general warning to that effect on cigarettes is simply a lie if it’s to be understood literally. The 1964 surgeon general report (still the most thorough one to date) makes a conclusion to the effect that (and I’m writing this off the top of my head, but you could probably find it online) smoking a certain number of cigarettes for a certain amount of time (it’s a threshold issue) puts you in an demographic category that has a statistically significantly higher rates of cancer. Presumably, a cause entails something approaching a sufficient condition, especially in medicine and biology. You can say that poliovirus causes polio, but the connection between smoking and cancer is nowhere near that. The strongest claim that one can actually make based on the evidence is that tobacco usage is an identified factor in some cancer formation.

    The problem comes when someone asks a question from a laymen’s perspective that utilizes a framework that is unsympathetic to the people answering, and then acts surprised when they provide an answer that rephrases the question using a framework more suitable to their interests. The fact that you act surprised by the reframing of the question by the tobacco industry does not mean that the answer is fraud.

    There are two facts that nobody has ever sought to refute: (1) smoking is not good for you, and (2) it’s worse for some people than for others. That said, the research on smoking and its impact are woafully inadequate because nobody wants to fund it. There’s no money in it. And when the government funds it, it is always done with a political bias, like the EPA’s sham 1993 study on secondhand smoke, which concluded that 2nd hand smoke causes 3,000 cancer deaths per year (a number that is still sited in the news with a straight face). US District Judge William Osteen had this to say about the study (he’s one of the few judges to which I would not apply John Ashcroft’s label of “black robed thugs”):

    “EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research has begun;… adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the agency’s public conclusion, and aggressively used [its] authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme intended to restrict Plaintiff’s products and to influence public opinion”

    The purpose of this report was to make a more plausible case than really asinine report published by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and the National Academy of Science in 1986 (you may remember when it made the news; they called it “passive smoking” back then, until it was discovered that the term “second hand smoke” communicated a more negative connotation–Koop was actually on declared a mission to eliminate smoking, and wanted to create propaganda surrounding the impact of smoking on others in order to recast it as an anti-social behavior and therefore break through the predominantly pro-choice outlook that most non-smokers took toward smoking). That report was so bad that even OSHA refused to act on it.

    In any case, the 1993 EPA report is largely what sparked the anti-smoking craze of the 1990s, which resulted in the tobacco settlement, the cigarette tax hike, and elimination of indoor smoking areas in many areas of the country.

    But you’re right that you can’t talk about the tobacco case without talking about an entire range of issues. One could write books on the topic.

    As far as marketing to kids, well that’s just plain silly. I mean, really: who cares? I went to a prestigious prep school that had an outdoor smoking area for kids to smoke if they had their parent’s permission. When I went to public high school, they also had a smoking court there. We have kids who sit on the couch all day playing homicidal video games, never lifting a finger to exercise, eating nothing but potato chips and candy and big macs and other junk food, and everything is cool. But try to sell them a cigarette and you’ve got a tortuous act! That makes about as much sense as the Salem witch trials.

  46. Elisabeth says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Let’s skip the lecture on the horror of the dairy industry and their propagandistic marketing campaigns (their “Got Milk” campaign is especially diabolical – worse than the Joe Camel cartoon hawking his wares, for sure). Do we have to argue about whether smoking cigarettes is worse than eating eggs and drinking milk? Sigh.

  47. Steve Evans says:

    I’m sure this is what Elouise was hoping for in the comments! Contention, yes — but can we have more ad hominems or something, just to help the rest of us stay interested??

  48. Elizabeth,

    The Insider is not Russel Crowe’s finest movie–that would be L.A. Confidential.

    As for tobacco memories–one of my favorites occurred when I was in high school. I had a job at a plant nursury and generally fancied myself a bit of a gardener. I also had the good fortune to have a biology teacher who encouraged my interest in growing things and, at my request, he sent away for some tobacco seeds from a catalog. I planted them among the geraniums in a small in-door garden at the back of the science lab which was also sometimes used for mock burials of Drosophila melanogaster. Within a few weeks I had a thriving micro-plantation.

    When the Utah winter had receded sufficiently far into the past I took a dozen of the plants home and planted them in my parents backyard where they continued to thrive. My tobacco plants, tall and with large leaves, were a nice compliment to the marigolds and celosia that grew at their feet and they eventually came close to touching the eves of the house. My father was as fascinated with them as I was and he would point them out to whatever neighbor was sitting on the deck with him. More than once he told me he would like to use them in the gardens the next year, but I had already used all my seeds. In their place he put in sunflowers–the kind that grow six feet and whose seeds, if roasted and salted, are identical to the ones you get at the gas station but which, if allowed to fall on the ground and left undisturbed grow up the next year.

  49. Elisabeth says:

    Ah, Mathew – that’s a close second! I loved that movie. Guy Pearce was fabulous, too. Whatever happened to him, I wonder.

  50. Supergenius says:

    Elisabeth, two things of note happened to Guy Pearce: the first was Memento, which was a great great movie. The second was The Time Machine, which was decidedly NOT a great great movie.

  51. Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for the update! Although, nothing can touch Guy’s performance in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (or Hugo Weaving’s, for that matter – who has quite the acting range. He’s equally as compelling as an elf and a drag queen!).

  52. Kaimi, on accountability. Every time I’ve heard of a judge being disciplined for inappropriate behavior behind the bench (like Maria Lopez’s famous lapses in judgement here in Massachusetts), everyone cries “heaven help us if we lose the independent judiciary!” And state supreme courts are the venue with the final say on the state-wide tobacco settlement, and they are generally unaccountable. Almost all of them fall into one of three categories: (1) They’re altogether appointed, as is Massachusetts and Virginia; (2) they’re appointed and then voted on for merit retention, as in Florida (which in practice gives voters less of a say than stock holders have in corporate governance because there is no real challenge), and (3) they’re elected in elections without party affiliation so that it’s impossible to actually tell where the candidates stand on anything, as in Arkansas. Only in the third is there some modicum of real accountability, obfuscated though it may be by the institutionalized (false) pretense of objectivity.

    The basic problem that I have with the courts is this: In every political system, everything always gets decided by popular opinion–the question is merely whose popular opinion. In ancient Greece, they called it democracy when they devised a way for aristocrats to take turns governing full time, instead of having everyone constantly governing part time. Here, we call it democracy (or republicanism–it doesn’t really matter much) when small panels of 5 to 9 people are able to regularly make unchangeable laws that drastically change the status quo and create precedents for an indefinite number of other decisions. (As opposed to legislatures, who pass laws mostly by small, easily reversible, incremental changes to existing laws; for example, after Bill Clinton failed to get the Patriot act through Congress, George W. Bush succeeded. Courts, by contrast, are supposed to be constant.)

  53. Last night I saw “Thank You For Smoking,” which was great fun. Most everyone seated near me in the university-adjacent art house theater was appalled, judging by their gasps, tut-tutting, and disapproving clucks.

    DKL, you could be that guy. You even look like him. In fact, when I read your comments, I imagine them being spoken by him.

  54. None of you know, I suppose, that Guy Pearce was on an Aussie soap called Neighbours that was a fixture of my adolescent life. For me, Guy will always be “Mike.” Anyway, back to smoking…

    …after I defend my PhD I think I should be allowed to smoke a cigar. Dont’cha think?

  55. Well, Ronan, if you do, go to the Beverly Hills Cigar Club. That’s one fond memory of tobacco, I guess, if there is one. A friend who was a big time guy in Hollywood for awhile got a chance to join. When we visited him, he invited us to the club. The whole place is awesome, and he took us into the humidor where we saw the cigar lockers of all the big stars who would retire to the club for their Romeo and Giuliettas! Also, the whole place was so well ventilated that the air was fresher and cleaner than the air outside. The club was filled with glamorous men and women, puffin’ on big expensive stogies, and I felt like I was transformed into some Hollywood of the 30’s. It all felt a little debauched and dangerous and was extremely fun.

  56. Wow, meems, can you sneak me in?

  57. Elouise, I’m reading your book and I’m taking it to church for the boring times.

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