The War on Smoking and the Rise of the Nanny State by Theodore J. King (NY: iUniverse, 2008)
Reviewed by Mark Irwin (

"When people begin to accept dictates from governments of what they are not supposed to say and do, for their own and collective good, they begin to forget all the liberties that previous generations knew.   The Nannies are out to remake our society, and smokers are their lab rats" ( The War on Smoking , p. 61).

            Theodore J. King describes himself as "an avid pipe smoker" (p. 103) but he obviously smokes cigarettes as well.   In his profession as a political journalist and newspaperman, he's in a unique position to size up what's going on with smokers' rights across the globe, and the news is, to say the least, disheartening.   In easy-going, bright and humorous prose, he piles on story after story, all thoroughly documented, as he gives us a brief history of anti-smoking laws (including some interesting references to the Third Reich), followed by who the anti-smokers are, the effects of smoking bans on business world-wide, the sad state of smoking in Europe, and finally some possible solutions that are already in place in various parts of the country.

            "Nannyism," of course, has been around for a long time in one form or another as long as there have been governments big enough to be infected by it.   I first felt its razor claws back in the 90s with the first big push of the PC crowd.   At no less a citadel of democracy than Thomas Jefferson's own University of Virginia, there was big talk about the health hazards of--I kid you not--coffee!   Now the cupojoe is on a fairly equal footing for me with the sacred pipe, and I remember having several conversations about the possibility of life on other planets, because I sure wasn't going to stay on this one without coffee.   Caffeine was proclaimed one of the great killers, and people who used it were held in a special kind of abhorrence by quite a number of faculty members and students.   For a time, it even looked like the student canteen was going to quit selling this elixir of life.   Fortunately, at about that time, there was a little coffee company from Seattle that became huge when they decided not to sell just beans, but coffee drinks as well, and whether it was their economic clout or just the common sense of John Q. Citizen, the mania against coffee subsided.

            As King's book hummed along, I began to get a Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegutish sci-fi feeling rising in my gorge.   I could almost hear him with Rod Serling accents--like reality had just moved into the Twilight Zone.   And I think that is part of the point King is making: to preserve individual liberties, not for the sake of cigarette smokers, but for all of us, we need to be pro-active.   We can't be the fabled frog-in-the-pot who plashes around as the temperature rises, scalding us and our hobby to death: "We are giving government too much power over how we live our lives.   The war on smokers is a big part of that rise of government intervention, and it is the one that enjoys the most public support or apathy because it affects a relatively small percentage of the population" (90).

            I suspect that, like King, most pipemen are more interested in being morally correct than politically correct, and I think the day has arrived when we need to find our voice and be pro-active about our hobby.   One of the premises of the book, as King repeats time and again, is that "the people who want to ban smoking are not going to stop with banning smoking.   They are always going to look for and find an 'emerging health threat.'   If they don't, they will be forced to close their doors and look for work in the real world" (p. 82).  

            We first need to promote the genuine health facts surrounding the pipe and dissociate them from the legitimate health hazards of cigarettes.   Simultaneously, we need to promote our hobby's documented health benefits: responsible use leads to lower stress and longer life, to name but two of the most important. 1   But we also need to take ideas like International Pipe-Smoking Day ( ) and flesh them out so that our hobby is seen as something healthy, positive, and American.   If you want to see how this can be done, take a look at what the American craft-beer movement has done since the late 1980s.   We now have the absolute finest craft-beer industry in the world, routinely making beers far ahead of what's happening in England, Germany, or Belgium.   I don't see anyone lobbying against Samuel Adams on Capitol Hill.

            Part of the problem we face is that, as pipe smokers, we tend to be (excuse the stereotype) a quieter and gentler lot than either cigar or cigarette smokers.   But we need to take our cue from King, "a thinking man" who not only smokes a Peterson pipe (p. 99), but is working to effect solutions to preserve our liberty to do so.   We need to begin using our collective wisdom to preserve what unites us--our passion for pipes and tobaccos.   To that end, hats off to Theodore J. King for bringing the issues into focus.

See Kevin Boyd's "Summary Notes from the lecture of Henri P. Gaboriau M.D.," March 2002 (Seattle Pipe Club, ) and the famous US Surgeon General's report, "Smoking and Health" (No. 1103, page 112), available for download on the internet.