As Smoking Bans Give Way to Sales Bans,
Smoking Inches Ever Closer to Prohibition

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” —George Santayana

When the New York Fairgrounds announced in April that the sale of tobacco products would no longer be permitted at any fairground events, Audrey Silk, founder of NYC CLASH, suddenly saw the last seven years flash before her eyes. And it wasn’t long before she fired off emails to the entire cigar industry, emblazoned with this ominous announcement, enlisting its help to fight back:

New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer Declares Prohibition;
Bans Sale of Cigars and Other Tobacco Products

Your first reaction might be: “It’s only one Fair” (actually it’s any event held on the fairgrounds) and “It’s only in New York.” But Silk knows better.

Her organization—New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (NYC CLASH)—was created in 2000, three years before New York City enacted the toughest smoking law in the country, specifically to head off what Silk called an incursion on civil liberties and private property rights. Despite the early start in fighting back, she was dismayed at the lack serious, unified support, and the often common sentiment by those it would affect the most that “It’ll never happen here.”

“We knew the proposal was coming by following the anti-smoker crusaders, and we knew that if New York City fell, it would be seen as the standard bearer,” Silk explains. “When Mayor Bloomberg proposed the smoking ban for New York City, we screamed that if New York City goes, so goes the rest of the country.”

In the end, of course, it did happen in New York, and Silk couldn’t have been more correct. In fact, the situation actually turned out to be even worse than she imagined in defeat: As went New York, so went the rest of the world.

“If something can be done in New York, it can be done anywhere.” — Daniel Smith, national vice president for government relations, American Cancer Society

“Spurred on by the success of smoking bans elsewhere, such as... New York City, Scotland pressed ahead and became the first constituent country of the U.K. to ban smoking in pubs, clubs, and restaurants.” —Scotland Now, March 2007 Issue

Once again, Silk is fighting mad, as she knows the path all too well.

“Today it’s New York — on the state’s Fairgrounds. Tomorrow it’s the rest of the country, as we’ve learned from smoking bans — legislation that every city and state wanted to emulate immediately after New York did it.”

So why the apathy... yet again?

“It’s important to first address the stupidity—yes, there’s no kind way to say it, the stupidity—of those who brush this aside as nothing more than a small, unthreatening event or situation.

“Topping the list are the vendors directly affected by this ban who have allowed government to shut down their business without a whimper. What a disgrace. They should be ashamed. Whether they like it or not, they are the front line and by giving in have left open the floodgates for government to come after [everyone else] next. Every tobacco vendor’s livelihood is at risk! It’s up to you to pick up their slack.”

Sobering words. Visit www.nycclash.com for more information about the fight, and page 18 of this issue for more about the New York retail sales ban itself.

E. Edward Hoyt III