WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With regard to the last great persecution of the 20th century, is it possible that we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel?
The last great persecution experienced in this most repressive of all centuries is, of course, the hysterical persecution of tobacco. And the light that I hope we are seeing is the lighting of an elegant Marlboro poised on the lips of a sophisticated sybarite. Is it not about time that discerning adults be free to light up in a proper setting? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, I view cigarette smoking as a First Amendment Right.
Now there are indications that cigarette smokers have their growing vanguards of freedom fighters. The most glamorous of these civil libertarians is, it appears, Nicole Kidman, the Oscar-winning actress, who boldly enjoyed a smoke the other day during a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival. Almost immediately she was harassed by her director, Lars Von Trier, who directed her new move, inelegantly titled, "Dogville." The ugly name was, I assume, his idea, not hers. He has shown himself to be a cad. She is showing herself to be a lady of taste and independence.
I salute her, notwithstanding her opposition to the recent war in Iraq. Iraqis are famous cigarette smokers, so I suppose it is possible that Nicole, in her opposition to the war, was merely showing solidarity with the Iraqis in their right to enjoy tobacco in public places. Perhaps she feared an American expeditionary force would bring with it the tobacco patrols that now haunt such once-free American cities as New York, governed by the Suicide Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Raise those taxes a bit higher, Mike, and even non-smokers will call for your neck.
The American-led persecution of tobacco is another blot on our history. Smoking was once championed by liberals, and though lighting up just anywhere is insensitive to the rights of non-smokers, lighting up in properly ventilated places is a right that all freedom-loving Americans should defend.
Nicole, I am with you. Let us sit down in a smart cafe, light up and talk things over. Writers and other members of the intelligentsia have long known the digitalis to the cerebral cortex that is supplied by benign nicotine. It quickens the wit, strengthens perception and expands memory. Civilized people have for over a century noted that tobacco was the sine qua non of every intellectual salon. The obvious dimming in what Jacques Barzun has called the House of Intellect is doubtless in part a consequence of the persecution of cigarette smoking.
Nicole, after a glass of wine and a long leisurely smoke with you, I might even see the sapience of letting Saddam off the hook. On the other hand, you might come to my point of view and join me in calling for a little saber rattling toward the Iranian mullahs. I particularly like cigars, as did that famed Nobel-Prize winner in literature W.S. Churchill.
Not only are modern sophisticates such as Nicole joining us in the liberation of smokers, but science is also coming to our side. A massively researched paper in the May 17 British Medical Journal reports that all the hysteria over "secondhand" smoke is without scientific support. After studying the health records of 100,000 people over four decades, the paper reports, "... environmental tobacco smoke was not associated with coronary heart disease or lung cancer mortality at any level of exposure." And the report goes on, "These findings suggest that the effects of environmental tobacco smoke, particularly for coronary heart disease, are considerably smaller than generally believed." I knew it all along.
There are other benefits to be derived from nicotine. It has been used for the treatment of various psychiatric conditions, and at a modest cost. It lightens up the gloom now experienced in such unwholesome venues as health food stores and aerobics studios, where the clientele is so morbidly obsessed with health that it has no time for life. Nicole's perky temperament and lovely looks are a testament to tobacco's many benefits.
So smokers and friends of freedom, breathe easier. An end to this dreadful persecution may be at hand. Nicole Kidman has joined our cause and suggested to me a revision in Kipling's great line, "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke." How about "A woman is only a woman, but a cigar-smoking woman is a star"?