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Putting Out the Obamabutts: Is the Right To Smoke Constitutional? April 25, 2009

Josephine Baker in a vintage smoking ad

Josephine Baker in a vintage smoking ad

Many of us have tried smoking at least once. As I write this I can recall my first time smoking and it was also my last. I was twelve years old and in science class at a Chicago Public School on the West side. My friend came to me and flashed four cigarettes. “They are Virginia Slims” she said. “We can smoke them after school.”

Ah, Virginia Slims. I loved their proactive girl power advertisements which had a tremendous influence on my attitudes towards smoking. “YOU’ VE COME A LONG WAY BABY”. The ads made me want to smoke. Smoking carried essences of gender identity. My entry into the smoking culture was synonymous wuth being a feminist. I would be a bitch ass feminist in sexy clothes- a nonconformist, carefree, trail blazer. A woman’s role is to query, survive, and smoke!!!

That entire afternoon, I impatiently twitched at my school desk waiting for 3PM to arrive. When it did my gal pals and I walked several blocks from campus to an abandoned building. No one would see us here except for the dope fiends that lived there. I took my Viginia Slim and lit up. Okay, I did not feel like a woman. It was awkward holding it between my fingers.
“Why are they so skinny?” I asked.

My friends laughed. “They are for girls that is why they are called slims.” They mocked me by rolling their eyes. Clearly they were having a better time than I. I began to cough

PSA Anti-Smoking Campaign Ad

PSA Anti-Smoking Campaign Ad

“It stinks” I said, taking it out of my mouth and throwing it down. Maybe I would like it some other time.
“You’re not even finished! You wasted it!” My friend was mad.
She was always ahead of me in every respect when it came to being what we thought at the time was a woman. She lost her virginity at nine, got her first period at ten. I was nearly thirteen and had experienced none of those things. “Sorry” I said. “I need to go home”

At home I was a total basket case and told my mother everything. She said I smelled like smoke and she had this premonition that I was up to “no good”. As usual she harassed me for being friends with “that girl”. Mother was not a smoker but her son was. She regretted ever letting him start and was obviously disappointed in me.

I promised never to do it again. I didn’t want to. Maybe I would try to be a woman by drinking Smirnoff (They had sexy ads with women in them also). I would never pick up another cigarette again.

I was living in New York City when the laws were passed banning smoking in public places. Gone were the days of a maître d’ asking “Smoking or Nonsmoking?”

I won’t lie to my readers. I was glad. The smell of cigarette smoke annoys me.

I would never think of cigarettes again until I moved into an apartment building filled with upwardly mobile gen-Xers. I walked off the elevator one night only to be accosted by one of my neighbors.

“Are you the one on the floor that smokes?” he asked.

“No.” I said. He looked pissed off-like veins popping from your forehead pissed off.
“Someone on this floor is smoking and I intend to put an end to it”

“I don’t think you can” I said. “There are no condo association rules saying that you cannot smoke in your apartment. It is their apartment”
My neighbor stomped off. What later ensued was a battle of fluorescent post it notes stuck on the door of the butt in question. The smokers ended up putting an electronic Glade air freshener in the hallway which unfortunately violated fire codes. They ended up moving four months later. Judging from my neighbor’s good mood, the exodus of the smokers was mentally satisfying.

I could not help but feel that the entire incident was blown out of proportion. You have the right to do what you want in the confines of your own home…Right?

The federal government is cracking down on smokers by raising taxes on cigarettes. That makes it pretty damn hard to smoke given the current economic crisis. Still cigarette sales have only dropped 25%. Though it is ironic that the smokers are indulging in an unhealthy habit and the government is collecting taxes from it to fund child healthcare.

Much has been made of President Obama’s urge to light up. Recently he was contacted by an Illinois man, a Democrat who worried about Obama’s health because he had lost his father to lung cancer.

Vintage Ad For Murad Cigarettes

Vintage Ad For Murad Cigarettes

Chicago Tribune
April 21, 2009

It’s been 30 years since his dad died, and Michael Powers still misses him.
That’s why he wrote to President Obama urging him not to smoke so he could be there for his daughters…
Powers told Obama his dad, Benjamin, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day –and later died of lung, throat and bone cancer.
He enclosed a photo of his dad. It was returned in a sealed plastic bag with Obama’s reply, he said.

President Obama's Personal Handwritten Response To Michael Powers

President Obama's Personal Hand Written Response To Michael Powers

Isn’t Obama’s smoking habit his business? As an archivist, I admit that I do cringe at the thought of Obama smoking in the White House. Former President Bill Clinton was the first to officially ban smoking in the White house. What if Obama decided to allow it again?
Afrocity is grappling here. I want to be fair.


Anyone who examines the history of smoking will see that it is a hot button issue which creates social and political tensions. My love for the constitution and protection of individual rights sends red flags when I am confronted with various news on anti-tobacco legislation. My primary fear is that the anti-smoking culture is restricting liberty and is in need of an exercise in the reality of free will and the freedom to choose. In our quest to create a smoke free environment are we sacrificing the rights of the individual?
Beneath the veneer of concern for the public good are anti-smoking activists going to far.
Take this story in the Boston Globe for example. Now landlords can advertise “smoke free apartment buildings”.


Boston Globe
Landlords lead push to ban smoking at home
By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / April 24, 2009

When apartment dwellers in Belmont, Calif., complained about cigarette fumes from down the hall, the City Council sprang into action on their behalf, outlawing smoking in apartments and condos and threatening to ticket violators.
When tobacco-control activists in Massachusetts embraced the same cause, they made a tactical decision that seemed surprisingly meek in a state long recognized for its prohibitions against harmful habits: They rejected the idea of governmental regulation.
It was one thing, they figured, for lawmakers to banish smoking from restaurants and bars. It was something else entirely to deploy city or state laws to prevent apartment tenants and condo owners from smoking in their own homes.
So, instead, they are leaving it to market forces, convinced that the supply side – landlords – will listen to the demand side – nonsmoking tenants – and adopt smoke-free rules.
It appears to be working.
“Now renting! Smoke-free apartment living” trumpets a banner billowing from a blocklong apartment house rising in the shadow of TD Banknorth Garden

It appears that Boston apartment dwellers are embracing this. My only question is what are the consequences? We are building these regulations on the foundation of public health and atop sentiments of disgust for all things tobacco ,but is it constitutional?

Stephen Helfer, who has fought on behalf of smokers’ rights for years, said there is nothing subtle about efforts that he argues will further marginalize the poor and the mentally ill, who smoke at rates higher than the state average.
“I think they’re trying to almost blackmail landlords into doing this,” said Helfer, who lives in a Cambridge condo where smoking is allowed. “The reason they are not trying to regulate it is because they feel they don’t have the political will right now. But make no mistake: They’re going after us in our homes.”
In many respects, the home represents the final frontier of tobacco control.

Is the right to smoke conceptually related to our civil liberties? The liberals seem to be the forerunners in the anti-smoking campaigns. Cigarettes are now over $9 in some areas. Please do not misunderstand. Yours truly, Afrocity is neither a smoker nor am I advocating smoking. I just know from experience that when it comes to the Democrats, raising taxes is habit forming and dangerous to our health. The same goes for restriction of our freedoms.



Autographed Letter Signed,



25 Responses to “Putting Out the Obamabutts: Is the Right To Smoke Constitutional?”

  1. manbearpig68 Says:

    Very Good Post!! Where are the limits? It causes great divides and more separation in the country. Higher taxes and thoughts on rights infringement could easily runaway with other items as well.. Are they going to start taxing BBQ’s and red meat. I’m sure there’s a lot of liberal vegetarians who have already thought of this.. and then “I don’t want somebody living in the apartment or house next to me cooking meat because it infringes on my rights” The more population, the worse it gets and when liberals are in power anything is bound to happen..

  2. paranoidpyro Says:

    I too have lit up a couple of smokes in my life, but I’m allergic to tobacco. I have friends and family who smoke (just not around me if they remember), and I don’t begrudge them that, so I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.

    What is always funny is the left “finding” new rights that are somehow hidden in the constitution. There is no right to smoke, no right to abortion, no right to sodomize your (consenting adult) lover, etc. What there is a right to, is the right to be left the fuck alone by the government. Amazingly that right encompasses all the other rights the left triumphs.

    But, they don’t like that right, because they like the government controlling certain aspects of you life. Like guns (which is a stated, specific right), or teaching your kids your religious beliefs that contradict their beliefs (again, another specific stated right). But then again, I lean heavily libertarian most of the time. so my opinion probably doesn’t matter to liberals anyway.

  3. afrocity Says:

    Manbearpig, and Para you make some valid points. Para I did not know that one could be allergic to tobacco. Where does the regulation end. Manbear yes, what if I am told that I hate the smell of smoked ham coming from your apartment?
    In the situation I was in, the neighbor’s smoking did not enter my apartment but the hallway did reek. So are my rights only extended to the hallways and not his actually apartment. Once the door closes I feel that it is your business what happens behind it.

  4. Deathknyte Says:

    I quit smoking Jan 1, 2000. Haven’t really started back up since. I have tried to smoke two cigarettes since then and choked on them both so I have no real incentive to start back up. Other than the occasional craving I still get.

    Frankly, if people want to smoke, let ’em. It won’t harm me because I don’t have to stand next to them while they are doing it.

    • afrocity Says:

      But not many are as tolerant as you are. Some don’t want to live in the same building. I am glad that I never started the habit.

      • Deathknyte Says:

        Actually, I am quite intolerant (about liberalism). If you don’t want to live in a building where there are smokers you could move. Don’t want to move? Stop complaining then.

  5. There is no application of liberty when it infringes upon the rights of others. Smokers hurt me, my family, and my friends just by the act of smoking. I could care less what they do to themselves, but they don’t have the right to kill me with their nasty habit.

    Extra taxes,…sure. Smoking’s impact upon non-smokers results in healthcare costs beyond the smoker. Healthcare costs are already almost 20% of GDP. The correlation exists to support these taxes. — I’m no Obama supporter but I have no sympathy for smokers who claim their rights are being infringed becasue they can’t fill my lungs with their polluted second-hand smoke. Let them kill themselves — but if they think they’re going to take me down with them they’ve got another thing coming.

    No liberties can be associated with that. The tobacco companies have had it their way for a long time.

    • But someone smoking in their own home doesn’t “hurt” you, unless you go into their home, and you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. Don’t bother bringing up second hand smoke, there are way too many studies that show it’s all BS, unless you are in a room with people hot boxing for a long period of time, and it’s far less harmful than breathing the air in a city like LA anyway.

      And if you want to talk about smoking in public, if a bar, a private business, hence privater property, allows smoking in their establishment, and you don’t like smoke you do not have to go into that bar, you can find one that does not allow smoking so you can be happy, it’s called freedom.

      And if you want to stop worrying about the health care cost of smokers stop trying to make the government pay for it, if the individual has to pay for his own care than you would never have to worry about picking up the tab for someone else. Or we can just ration care, force people to either live, eat and breath exactly how we want to, and let the people who fail to live up to our ideals die just so the government can save a buck.

      You can complain about the “evil” tobacco companies all you want but trust me if you want true evil go talk to the government.

  6. I’m in moderation…is there a “liberal detector” scanning device in this portal? I thought I heard it beep. 🙂

  7. CApeCoddah Says:

    Awesome post, AfroCity, you are one heck of a talented writer. I agree with every syllable of your post, and I am a smoker, although I am quitting, cut way down, too much money and I don’t even like it.

  8. CApeCoddah Says:

    Stateofdisbelief, you have the absolute right to go anywhere you wish to get away from a smoker. We have rights too. My company accommodates smokers. If other clients don’t like it, they are free to go elsewhere, and in fact encouraged to for the service they hire us to perform. If my employees do not like it, they are also perfectly free to seek employment elsewhere. That policy will not change when I completely stop smoking within the next month. Get over yourself.

    • Employers are required to provide SAFE working conditions. Employees should not be required to look for safe working conditions. That’s absurd. Should employers be able to ignore safety?

      • Deathknyte Says:

        Safe as in “nothing is going to land on you and kill you”. Not safe as in “we will protect you from something that might or might not kill you in 50 years.” Stop trying to tie your anti-smoking crusade to workplace safety.

      • Stateofdisbelief Says:

        Of course I should just “stop”. It’s way too difficult for you to debate facts. Much easier to just stick your fingers in your ears and spout the party line. By the way, I’m curious to know why a group that purports to be for individual liberty wants to control a woman’s reproductive rights and a homosexual’s choice of who to marry? And by the way, what about Privacy? I want to hurl every time I hear a conservative defend Bush Administration Patriot Act provisions with the argument that “well if you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you care if they can listen in on your phone calls, read your emails, or search your personal property without a subpeona?” Liberty? give me a break.

        The hypocrisy of party politics is alive and well — both parties. No one wants to discuss facts. It’s way too easy to listen to your party leadership and parrot their views. I’m so sick of partisan politics. It’s what brought us Obama and both republicans and democrats are responsible.

        Not one person responded to the information I posted from the Surgeon General appointed by YOUR president Bush II (except to leave a brief snipe). Again, no interest in FACTS. Tell me this conservative appointee is wrong, back it up with evidence, convince me that the health risks for children that are cited are not important. THIS WAS A REPUBLICAN APPOINTEE THAT REPORTED THESE FINDINGS.


        I guess I can expect some more name-calling and dismissive rants, but no fact-based debate.

        I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade. I’m just looking for people who can have a meaningful discussion about something. I will certainly stop looking for that here.

        No offense to my wonderful friend afrocity, but I can’t stand partisan politics — no matter what the party. They BOTH stink. Enjoy your time on the hamster wheel. At this rate you’ll be on it for a long time.

  9. the commenter Says:

    The evidence of long term significant and widespread health damage resulting from second hand smoke is very very very thin. It has been used as a billy club to enforce a particular version of what public rights are. I don’t care much for smoking, but it really doesn’t bother me that other people smoke. It’s their money, their body, and their business. I actually do not like smoking bans in restaurants, because I think the market could sort that out on it’s own. It would be very easy to advertise your restaurant as smoke free or smoker friendly. The same with apartment buildings.

    The smell of smoke is an inconvenience, but it isn’t a health crisis. You get more pollutants in your lungs just walking down a city street than you do from second hand smoke. In any event the real issue is the infringement on personal liberty. It all seems rather fascistic to me, reminiscent of Hitlerian Germany (

    • Thin? Not a health crisis? Then I would suggest smokers lock themselves in small rooms and smoke themselves into oblivion. There is SIGNFICANT scientific evidence of the effects of second hand smoke. I think people who expose their children to second hand smoke in small enclosed areas such as cars should be arrested. Conservatives need to look beyond their party rhetoric that supports the tobacco industry and consider the most important resource of our nation – our children. Period. the end. I’m done debating this topic. Have at it.

      Comparing restrictions on second-hand smoke to Hitler — Elderj that’s a stretch.

      • Oh…and the outgoing president’s (a conservative) concluded the following regarding second-hand smoke

        ===== The current Surgeon General’s Report concluded that scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Short exposures to secondhand smoke can cause blood platelets to become stickier, damage the lining of blood vessels, decrease coronary flow velocity reserves, and reduce heart rate variability, potentially increasing the risk of heart attack.2

        Secondhand smoke has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known cause of cancer in humans (Group A carcinogen).3

        Secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke. Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia and hydrogen cyanide.4

        Secondhand smoke causes almost 50,000 deaths in adult nonsmokers in the United States each year, including approximately 3,400 from lung cancer and 22,700-69,600 from heart disease.5

        Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at work are at increased risk for adverse health effects. Levels of secondhand smoke in restaurants and bars were found to be 2 to 5 times higher than in residences with smokers and 2 to 6 times higher than in office workplaces.6

        Workplace productivity was increased and absenteeism was decreased among former smokers compared with current smokers.7

        Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to young children. Secondhand smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year, and causes 430 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the United States annually.9

        Secondhand smoke exposure may cause buildup of fluid in the middle ear, resulting in 790,000 physician office visits per year.10 Secondhand smoke can also aggravate symptoms in 400,000 to 1,000,000 children with asthma.11

        In the United States, 21 million, or 35 percent of, children live in homes where residents or visitors smoke in the home on a regular basis.12 Approximately 50-75 percent of children in the United States have detectable levels of cotinine, the breakdown product of nicotine in the blood.13

        Research indicates that private research conducted by cigarette company Philip Morris in the 1980s showed that secondhand smoke was highly toxic, yet the company suppressed the finding during the next two decades.14

        I’m done…

      • RalphB Says:

        Corrction. You are way overdone.

  10. afrocity Says:

    I am more for not smoking in public places such as a restaurant but if someone in an apartment building smoked it would not bother me. I wonder if marijuana were legalized like many on the left advocate so much, would that change their stance on smoking? Weed has to be smoked correct? It would be hypocritical to be anti-smoking and pro-weed. I think marijuana smells worse than cigarettes. The question then becomes is it solely TOBACCO that they are after? I am for less infringement of a person’s rights. We do not want another prohibition on our hands.

    • Deathknyte Says:

      I would leave the decision of smoking vs non-smoking to the owner of the facility. If they want to allow smoking, the people who work there can find other jobs if they don’t want to work in a place that allows smoking. They can go work in a non-smoking place.

      I believe there was a report put out that second hand smoke isn’t nearly as bad as the anti-smokers claim it is.

  11. 迷你倉 Says:

    The pictures in this blog are very good.

  12. kimberly Says:

    I am a smoker but a very polite smoker. I know that there are some really rude smokers.

    it infuriates me that they increased the tax on cigs. It is a easy target for them… Nobody will detest it and if you do they will say “you should stop anyways”…

  13. Ecigs Says:

    Thanks for sharing this great information, appreciate your openness to share this with the world. Thanks

  14. Ryan Says:

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