James Leavey's Corner
Land Of The Nicotine-Free

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by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

FORCES' NOTE: part of this article has been published in issue 101 of Punch Magazine, March 8 - 21, 2000.

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James Leavey
The way things are going, some of us will eventually be walled up inside our own homes for daring to enjoy tobacco.And even that's not safe. There is already a case of a smoker in America whose neighbours are trying to get him evicted from his apartment on the grounds that he has broken a no-smoking tenancy clause.

Not that long ago, I wrote and edited a couple of the first ever travel books for smokers - The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London and The FOREST Smoker's Guide to Scotland.Instead of the gratuitous vilification I expected, they ignited serious, widespread debate by the world's media, much of it surprisingly positive.

As a result, two polite requests landed on my doormat, next to the cat's ashtray.

One was to produce a smoker's guide to Amsterdam - as if that tolerant city needs it - and another to Japan.The land of the rising yen boasts the highest number of adult smokers and the lowest incidence of lung cancer, so it seemed to me that the Japanese didn't really need my support incontinuing to enjoy what the anti-smoking puritans would no doubt claim is a form of harikari.

A few months' later, I attended the first international smokers' rights conference, in Washington DC, where I met Gian Turci and Ray Sasso.Gian offered to publish a selection of my nicotine-stained articles on the FORCES website, which now gets about 200,000 hits every month from around the globe.These include regular feelers from ASH, the CIA, the White House, FBI, and the anti-tobacco department of Britain's Health Education Authority.I readily agreed, because it's always nice to know you're upsetting the right people.

We recently decided to produce an online FORCES Smokers' Guide to just about the worst place an environmentally unhygienic person can go to - California.

If you're a non-smoker and don't understand the joke - smoking and California is a contradiction in terms.It's like equating Adolph Hitler with human rights, or the IRA with fair play.

California went smoke-free on 1 January 1995, except for its bars, which got a series of reprieves until 1 January 1998.Smokers are now about as welcome in America's sunshine state as a non-jogging, alcoholic paedophile who is in the final stages of leprosy.

One of the first things you will now see as you leave Los Angeles airport is a large 'no smoking' sign, which seems to hover over the city's permanent smog.The polluted air is regularly topped up by the exhaust fumes belching out of California's 27 million vehicles, of which LA.'s freeways get more than their fair share. Given the choice of what to inhale on the streets of California streets, some of us prefer tobacco.

Despite all the opprobrium, or perhaps because of it, California still has an estimated seven million adult smokers. Puritanical lobbyists, like Rob Reiner, have claimed that there has been a 30 per cent drop in the sales of tobacco throughout California since the anti-smoking measures were introduced.

Cynics, like Ray Sasso, president of FORCES California, counter this puffed-up statistic with the well-known fact that those who can buy cheaper tobacco from Mexico, the Internet, or America's most smoker-friendly state, Nevada, home to Las Vegas whose casinos still supply high rollers with free cigars and cigarettes - unlike their counterparts in the sunshine state.

The little matter of life and death has always been a gamble, whether you smoke or not. Talking of which, in Britain where public smoking is still relatively acceptable, Tony Blair, a former smoker, heads up the Nanny State.And we all know there's nothing worse than a former smoker - they have a tendency to metamorphose into born-again puritans.

Across the pond in the land of the not-so-free-for-those-of-us-who-dare-to-enjoy-tobacco, Blair's American buddy, President Clinton, has been photographed at least once in recent years with a large cigar in his mouth - which he claims remained unlit throughout the entire experience.

Let us hope that Clinton has never completely given up his love of fine cigars; life is bad enough for smokers in America already.

Indeed, some of us are praying that Bill is having a fine old time, now that Hillary has moved to New York.Just think of it, midnight feasts, good-time girlies, and double coronas in Abraham Lincoln's bedroom.

Whatever the truth, nobody could invent what is now happening to smokers in America's nicotine-free state.

Such as California's insistence on adorning its cities' poorest playgrounds with large 'no smoking' signs, under which the local hooligans can be seen dealing dope and shooting each other.

With the current gun laws, it's more acceptable to be seen in America with a smoking gun than a smoking cigarette. If you're under 18 in California, it's now easier to get a hit of heroin than a packet of fags - and no proof of identity is required by the local dealer.

In San Francisco they say it's still acceptable to light up a joint in Haight Ashbury, provided you don't adulterate it with tobacco.

Hippy or not, you are no longer free to smoke inside any of California's public buildings, although tobacco shops and designated smokers' areas in hotels and clubs are still exempt, depending on local ordinances.And if it's late and the tobacco shops are shut, tough luck - there are now no cigarette vending machines in the state.

You can't smoke on the streets or in the parks of some towns, like Davis, without being harassed by intolerant strangers.Or incurring a heavy fine and an even heavier moral sermon on the dangers of tobacco by the local cops and officials, who now see self-aggrandisement as part of their civic duty.

In some places, smokers are even banned from lighting up within 15 feet of an open doorway or window.

It's one thing to be a poor smoker in California, scratching around for somewhere to ignite your favourite tobacco - which oddly enough is still legally on sale to anyone 18 and over.But it's quite another to be one of California's rich and famous smokers.

In recent years, in spite of the anti-smoking controversy, many of Hollywood's movie icons have boosted their careers by gracing the front cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine, following in the Havana fumes of Jack Nicholson, John Travolta, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Douglas.

This exclusive list also includes our very own Pierce Brosnan, who bravely smoked a pipe in Mars Attacks before the intolerant aliens separated his head from the rest of his body.Brosnan was then forced to give up cigarettes in the latest Bond movie.No doubt ASH would say this is taking away 007's licence to kill - either himself, or others by passive smoking.

It's rumoured that Pierce is still one of the legion of Hollywood's power smokers, which includes the producers, directors and agents who bring together the stars with the hit movies.In 21st century California, fine expensive cigars equate to wealth and power, and cigarettes to potential suicides who should know better.

Nowadays, if a cigarette smoker appears in a Hollywood movie then he or she is either a bad person or about to become a victim.Any character who lights up a cigar on screen is someone not to be tangled with.And if anyone's up there smoking a pipe then you must be watching Discovery Channel.

Then there's the members-only cigar club in L.A. where world-famous movie stars sit at tables underneath their personalised humidors, including some powerful women who also enjoy the occasional suck on a stogie.

Madonna, Demi Moore, Linda Evangelistica and Claudia Schiffer have long had what it takes to make male chauvinist cigar smokers salivate, with or without the aid of a tube of hand-rolled Cuban tobacco.But then, when most men are confronted by a beautiful woman with a large cigar in her mouth, the last thing on their mind is what brand she's smoking.

Fortunately, Californian fads take a bit longer to reach Britain, so there's still time for us to prepare for the best, or the worst, depending on how you like your air - filtered or unfiltered.

Oh yes, if you think smoking bans are bad enough, some Californian clubs are now barring anyone wearing aftershave or perfume. So if you want to party in an L.A. club, best take a bucket of water, scrubbing brush and a bar of carbolic soap with you, just in case.

Meanwhile, the views of smokers are often overlooked by the traditional media (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio) but on the internet, at least, we still enjoy unrestricted freedom of speech.No doubt it's only a matter of time before the militant anti-smoking puritans try to ban it.

The FORCES Smokers' Guide to California, which seems destined to be one of the world's shortest books, already includes details of several Californian bars and restaurants that are now cheerfully ignoring the state-wide ban on smoking in public.

The problem is, do we dare to publish it on-line and take the risk of pinpointing targets for America's vehement anti-smoking brigade, some of whom have been known to physically attack nicotine indulgers and their sanctuaries"

Or should we carefully target and e-mail California's adult smokers, many of whom have been driven underground by the nicotine-free state's Draconian laws"You tell me.

Copyright James Leavey, 2000.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Author.


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