Jack Ohman

Blowing smoke is a thing of the past

With the Legislature set to raise the smoking age to 21 (fine by me), it reminded me of how far our culture has evolved on smoking.

I was born before the surgeon general’s 1964 warning that smoking was “hazardous to your health,” when smoking was not the war crime it is today. I’m not saying this as some sort of nanny-state observation; I am merely observing that cultural norms regarding smoking have shifted, dramatically.

For example, when I was working at The Oregonian in the mid-1980s, then-Gov. Vic Atiyeh would routinely smoke when he came to our editorial board meetings. Tareytons. Lots of them. No one gave it a second thought. Same with the editorial page spittoon. Yes, a brass spittoon.

I recall seeing then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein smoking in a photograph from the 1970s in San Francisco City Council meetings. That’s the long way we’ve come, baby. If she did that now, she’d be in Alcatraz.

My parents smoked. My mother smoked during her pregnancy with me. Many of my friends’ parents smoked. They smoked while making dinner. They smoked while eating dinner. My dad would put his cigarette butts in mashed potatoes. My Life cereal routinely featured floating ashes. My Cub Scout den mother smoked.

When I started working on daily newspapers in 1981, there were no designated smoking areas. People smoked Pall Malls and Larks at their desks.

When I found out that President Barack Obama was a closet smoker, I was shocked. A Democratic presidential candidate was a smoker? And he wasn’t immediately disqualified?

Hillary Clinton would be wrapping up her second term if she had made an issue out of Obama smoking. Former House Speaker John Boehner was the Last Major Public Official Who Openly Smoked. His successor, Paul Ryan, had to fumigate his offices. Now he tolerates hot gas from his caucus.

If you were in the military, you would get cigarettes in your rations, whether you wanted them or not. My grandmother said the government sent cigarettes to her house during World War II when her sons were in the service.

The president used to provide passengers with cigarettes wrapped in a package that read, “Welcome to Air Force One.” JFK smoked Cuban cigars and Jackie Kennedy smoked L&Ms. I recall first lady Betty Ford doing a tour of the White House on TV, and she showed that she had put a cigarette in a little figurine’s hands, as a joke.

In the 1960s, I would occasionally see major league baseball players smoke in the dugout on NBC’s Game of the Week. Football player Walt Garrison advertised chewing tobacco on television in the 1970s. I once watched author Tom Clancy smoke all the way through his keynote speech to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in 1995.

I was riding on a shuttle to the airport from the 1988 Democratic convention. A handsome, well-dressed man was sitting across from me. I asked him what he did for a living.

“I’m a lobbyist for Philip Morris,” he replied, knowing that he was exposing himself to yet another fusillade. I said, “Wow (actually, a stronger term). How can you do that?”

“Well,” he explained, “Social Security would be bankrupt if I didn’t do it.” He didn’t laugh.

The smoke-filled rooms of the Legislature are gone. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a cigar guy, and he had a smoking tent outside his office. Hasta la vista to smoking now, baby.

Smoke gets in your ayes.