These days, smoking bans are going up in one community after another, as fast as the burn on a cheap cigar. (The kind of cheap cigar that only a dilettante would smoke, of course.) Early in 2008, public smoking was even in trouble in Las Vegas casinos--which many observers would have assumed would be the last places on earth, after Durham, North Carolina, and the executive boardrooms of Davidoff, Inc., where smoking would never be banned.
But there's an even more remote location where smoking may still be safe--the North Pole. After all, everybody who ever celebrated Christmas knows that Santa is rarely to be seen without a pipe protruding from his beard--right? And Frosty the Snowman, though he may fear direct sunlight (and the removal of magic hats), doesn't fear the anti-smoking lobby, does he?
Well, it's just possible that the situation is direr than might have been imagined.
A Google search on "Santa" and "smoking" (or "Does Santa smoke") turns up all manner of hits--most of them having little to do with smoking or, in many cases, Santa. There are also, as expected, a handful of references to Jolly Old St. Nick's love of the pipe, which combines with his unique sartorial ideas (the odd red robe, the black belt, that goofy cap) and his endless beard to create the classic Santa image that we all know and love. People wonder aloud on message boards about what kind of tobacco Santa smokes, and whether it's hard to get a pipe lit in that moist, wind-whipping North Pole air. The Google who looks for long enough will even run across a handful of fundamentalist Christian web sites that argue that Santa is a bad influence, and part of a "secular conspiracy," because he promotes smoking (!).
But, right there on the first or second list of hits, you'll also get a notice from a Canadian health organization which claims to be written by Santa, in which the present-bringing fat man details how he finally kicked the pipe habit after years of complaints from Mrs. Claus. St. Nick's longtime companion was, he writes, concerned about his health and the smell. The letter concludes by telling us that Santa's on the patch.
And Mrs. Claus is making him eat high-fiber cookies as snacks, too.
In the last few years, conservatives have complained that Santa Claus is being made "politically correct," depicted as thinner and less jolly. Thus far this writer has seen little evidence of such a change. But those high-fiber cookies--and the no-more-pipe-smoking rule at the Claus household--do sound a bit threatening. How will a skinny, healthy Santa Claus manage to stay insulated from all that cold North Pole weather? After all, a layer of blubber and a good long smoke offer some protection in an icy climate.
But if Santa is--maybe--laying off the smoking for the moment, one would think that another holiday icon--Frosty the Snowman--will hang on a bit longer. Smoking is such an essential part of Frosty's lifestyle that, in the song which serves as his autobiography, it gets mentioned before one of his own bodily appendages: "With a corncob pipe/and a button nose." Besides, most children are smart enough to figure out that just because an anthropomorphic snow-blob smokes, that doesn't mean they need to do so.
So Frosty's smoking habit is probably safe. Right? Not according to the producers of a 1990s-era cartoon which now makes the holiday rounds alongside the old "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" specials that every TV-owner under sixty will immediately remember. In "Frosty Returns," that corncob pipe is conspicuously absent. What next? The button nose?
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