Steve Shay
West Seattle's Bob Fox has spent years trying to legally remove smoking from corporate and public areas, and to convince teens not to smoke.

"Don't waste your money on cigarettes!" advocate declares

Responding to the West Seattle Herald's May 7 story "Experts Urge West Seattle families to communicate directly about drugs and alcohol," long-time West Seattle resident, Bob Fox, wanted to weigh in with his years of fighting our tobacco-smoking culture and the powers behind it. A retired Boeing employee who with many positions including customer support, Fox tried, with some success, to change the corporate smoking culture in his work place. He recalled that at work the supervisor would announce several times a day it was time for a smoke break, and if an employee said he did not smoke, he was told to keep working.

"The thing we had to fight continually was there were too many people back then who thought the world turned on tobacco," Fox said. "If people stopped smoking the world would stop turning.

"At Boeing I tried to get the cafeterias divided into smoking and non-smoking areas and won that, but not in the offices," said Fox, a WWII veteran who repaired electrical systems on planes, mostly B-17's and B-24's from damage caused by German flak, or ground-based guns. "Then I tried to get to get the airlines to stop letting passengers smoke on planes.

"At the beginning you couldn’t convince anybody it was a health problem," said Fox. "But when I focused (my argument) on cost, we got results. For instance, Boeing was spending a tremendous amount on smoking by replacing its carpeting often. Also, there were a lot of complaints about planes gaining weight and they couldn’t figure out why. I did a little calculating.

"They started out with 200 pounds of ashtrays, then collected 200 pounds of tar a year. That displaces one and a half passengers and adds $5000 of fuel to haul that 200 pounds around. Tar is a terrible mess. If you opened the lining on the airplane you’d see a layer of black tar. The airlines say Boeing put that in there to keep the plane from leaking. That was a big falsehood, because when the lining is first installed it is clean like a mirror."

Fox founded Fresh Air for Non-smokers, or FANS, in 1979, and said his organization dealt with 44 countries 33 states. What began with a staff of seven expanded to 4,000 worldwide. The goal was to get cigarette smoking out of indoor work areas, to force companies and restaurants to display no-smoking signs, and to spread the no-smoking message to middle school, high school, and university students.

"I used the phrase 'smoke-free' because the pro-tobacco people liked the words 'anti' and 'non.' They'd tear you apart in the press," said Fox, who lost his 54 year-old dad to cancer in 1954. He said the doctor blamed cigarettes as the cause of his father's death.

"The tobacco-owned legislators worked on it too, and we were up against real negative and mean legislators," said Fox. "In Olympia they killed all our bills, not by vote. They'd say they were going to have a hearing Tuesday morning, so we’d get down there Tuesday morning and they'd say, 'Oh, we held that yesterday but no one was there to support it so it died.' They had all kinds of dirty tricks to beat you. And they new we’d have to drive 65 miles to do that.

"'Smoke-free' was unheard of so we were always looking for nonsmoking areas. I was one of the authors of the Washington Clean indoor air act law. (Governor Booth) Gardner signed it. (Filed May 10, 1985.) The law says all businesses have to put up signs that say whether there is smoking or nonsmoking. The health departments have now taken up what we were doing."

Fox said that, like in the corporate world, he had trouble convincing kids not to smoke based on health issues.

"They seemed to care when we would talk about their parents who smoked," Fox said. "Their parents' health concerned them. The best way to reach kids is to explain the cost of buying cigarettes. Every teen wants a license and a car. I handed out charts that showed if you smoke two packs a day at five dollars per pack, you were burning up a new car within eight years. Now that cigarettes are about eight dollars a pack, it is even sooner."

Fox acknowledge he smoked a bit back in the day, but would never smoke now, and still has a lot to do. He said he and his wife, Ann, who both grew up just a few houses away from the house where they now live, off Fauntleroy, "have been friends for 71 years."

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