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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Smokers: A Smoldering Revolution

America's latest social revolution can be observed in the forecourt of every office building. Rain or shine, snow or summer heat, the little knots of the nation's latest and most persecuted minority huddle in their common shame, intent on their pursuit of the last perversion.


One can admit to almost anything in America these days. Daytime television talk shows teem with transvestites and incest victims, male prostitutes and lesbian parents. Heroin, bestiality, pedophile priests and spouse-batterers are commonplace.


They may parade their proclivities on the airwaves, but if they want to light up a cigarette then they must head for the street and puff away at their self-abuse on the pavement.


American smokers are an endangered species in more than the obvious sense. Back in 1965, more than half of American males smoked. Today, barely a quarter still do so.


Banned in the White House, banned in cinemas and public buildings and now in most restaurants, smoking is also suffering from legal controls in all but four states -- the ones still heavily dependent on the tobacco industry.


Looking at these huddled masses, yearning not to breathe free, as they puff away in doorways, we can see conspiracies in the making. They feel persecuted, singled out for harsh treatment. They have, as they shiver in the cold or sweat in the summer heat, a funny kind of esprit de corps. Defiant smokers against the smug majority.


They meet at regular times, just before they start work, at coffee and lunch breaks. They have a grievance in common to discuss. Their habit predisposes them to sharing, to giving one another a light, a cigarette, a lift home. In Nero's Rome, this is how the early Christians got started.


Are they organizing, as they offer one another a light? Are they plotting office coups -- today a pay raise, tomorrow the right to smoke in the corridors?


One of John Steinbeck's less-remembered books, "In Dubious Battle," was a novel of union organizers in the 1930s. There is one scene that has long stuck in my mind. A veteran Communist advises a young recruit to start smoking, as the easiest way to strike up a conversation, a rapport, a common interest with the working man.


The little knots of the persecuted inside their clouds of smoke on the forecourts are also, consistently, the most racially-integrated gatherings I have ever seen in America, other than sports events. Blacks tend to smoke rather more than whites, and the number of women smokers has been rising recently as more and more women enter the workforce.


They are interesting issues of class here. Blacks and women tend to hold jobs at the lower end of the corporate and bureaucratic hierarchies. Among males, smoking declines quite sharply among those with college or graduate education. So the huddling smokers tend to be janitors, maintenance men, secretaries and clerks rather than the top executives.


Steinbeck's character comes to mind. We have here the organizing motive, the arena of recruitment, the focus of solidarity, and both the occasion and the opportunity for collective action. They even have the matches. If there were any Communists left to take advantage, they would find fertile ground among the cigarette butts.


The choice is plain. Either, ban smoking in office forecourts and forbid those conspiratorial huddles.


Or else, Smokers of the world, unite!