International Smokers Puff Back
HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Delegates from 22 countries puffing on pipes, cigars and cigarettes urged the United Nations on Friday to allow smoking in the name of human rights.
″Smoking is a human right and should be respected according to the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations,″ said a declaration adopted on the opening day of Smokepeace 90, the first international smokers’ conference.
The 123 delegates came from Europe, South America, the United States, Japan and Australia to the two-day meeting. They said they represented 1.7 billion smokers worldwide.
The meeting was sponsored by Finnish hotels and restaurants as well as large multinational tobacco corporations including Philip Morris and Rothmans.
″We are not puffing into the faces of nonsmokers. We are just fighting back and want them to be aware of our feelings, as we are of theirs,″ said Steve Handman, a spokesman for the American Smokers Alliance.
″It seems to be a last-ditch effort by the smokers, but I think to have this many people is amazing. Obviously, there’s a little lashback here,″ said Maureen Gail Mulvaney, a conference speaker from the United States.
Other delegates, including nonsmokers, maintained they were attending the conference to fight for civil rights.
″What the whole world is facing is a barrage of intolerance and, indeed, the outright infringement on personal liberty,″ said Chris Tame, British director of the Freedom Organization For The Right To Enjoy Smoking Tobacco.
″I don’t smoke, but the threat to the freedom of smokers is a threat to the freedom of all of us. Smokers now, drinkers next,″ Tame said.
Finland has banned smoking in most public places and is among countries with the strictest anti-smoking laws. However, delegates soon filled the conference room in Finlandia Hall with smoke.
Aarne Saarinen, a former leader of the Finnish Communist Party, said the conference venue had been carefully chosen.
″It was here after all that the Helsinki Human Rights Accords were signed in 1975 ... where the process of international detente got off to a good start,″ said Saarinen, who was the official host of the conference.
″What we want is detente between smokers and nonsmokers,″ Saarinen said.
″Recently, anti-smokers have had seven international conferences. This is the first occasion that those who want to disagree with them can speak out,″ said Bob Browning, a businessman from Australia.
Browning said he had been a heavy smoker but had quit for health reasons.
″I have taught my kids not to smoke. But banning smoking is not the answer. You have to listen to the other side too,″ Browning said.