The paper may be flimsy but the message is not. Nor is it in the past. The issuer of this bookmark, the Pilgrim Tract Society (PTS), is still active today, issuing more tracts (and currently praying for funds so they can pay for their latest order of paper), among them ones on “Drugs, Tobacco, Cigarettes, Dance, Alcohol, Suicide,” which means I have no way of dating my copy of this particularly irritating bookmark.
Said a whiskey flask to a cigarette,
THE SALOON—A BAR
“The Bar” is credited on the bookmark to a man named William T. Pearson. Unfortunately, I can find nothing about him online though I did discover that on a number of sites concerned with religion, alcohol and/or alcoholism the “poem” is credited to an unnamed “lifetime convict in Joliet prison.”
It’s a strange bookmark for me to own. My father and some other family members are longtime members of AA—some have faith in their Catholic religion, others do not believe, but none of them would ever subscribe to the extreme beliefs of PTS. The truth is I have no idea how I came by this bookmark. I would not have bought it. Perhaps it came in a batch I received as a gift, and it was so startling that I kept it for its curiosity value alone. For whatever reason it stays, yet it is my least favorite bookmark. Or more accurately, my most disliked one. It’s preachy, which is absolutely the wrong way to approach me about anything. It’s cheap. And, frankly, it’s ugly.
Obviously, it’s designed to be inexpensive to reproduce. The website for PTS offers more than twenty tracts, and they are surprisingly affordable. That’s understandable; they want to get their material into as many hands as possible. Design is not a concern, their message is.
Bookmarks are rarely works of art unto themselves even when they are miniature works of art. They are advertising vehicles, and have been and continue to be used to promote not just books, authors, and publishers, but consumer products and services of such an array it is difficult to find a product or service that hasn’t produced bookmarks at some point in time.
But as far as tobacco and alcohol go, they have always been seen by many as a kind of “sinful” indulgence. The so-called sin tax goes back a long way in history, according to Time magazine.
The sin tax is an established tactic. In the early 1500s, Pope Leo X underwrote his lavish lifestyle in part by taxing licensed prostitutes, and Peter the Great preyed on Russian vanity two centuries later by charging men who grew beards. In the Federalist papers, American patriot Alexander Hamilton proposed an excise tax on alcohol to boost revenues and curb consumption. The measure, enacted in 1791, sparked the Whiskey Rebellion, in which federal authorities were forced to quash an uprising by livid Pennsylvania settlers.
Nevertheless, sin taxes continue to be imposed in this country by both the federal government and many state ones. But this bookmark has nothing to do with taxes and everything to do with the two items that the PTS, and many others, view as sinful. It’s not that they are necessarily wrong about the ill effects, but that they seem, to me, to be saying is that indulging in any alcohol or tobacco will automatically lead you to “crime and ruination.”
Tobacco is a plant native only to the Americas, and around 1000 BC the Mayas began using the leaves for smoking and chewing. Rodrigo de Jerez probably became the first European smoker when he started the habit in Cuba but it only became a real risk for him when he returned to Europe in 1493 and his public smoking so offended people that he was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition and jailed for three years.
In the mid-sixteenth century, the first shipment of tobacco reached Britain, but it wasn’t until 1604 that it received its first stamp of “sin” when King James I published “A Counterblast to Tobacco” in which he described it as addictive and “an invention of Satan,” and banned its use from alehouses. (He changed his mind later, nationalized the tobacco industry, and actually reduced the taxes on it.) Around the same time Michael Feodorovich, the first Romanov Czar, declared the use of tobacco a deadly sin in Russia and forbade its possession for any purpose. It was also banned by Pope Clement VIII who threatened excommunication for anyone who smoked. India, Persia, and Turkey took it even more seriously: their cure for the habit was the death penalty. Despite these regulations and punishments, tobacco continued to be increasingly enjoyed throughout Europe.
In 1832, the first paper-rolled cigarette was developed and four years later, the first cigarette factory opened in Walworth, England. Health concerns were being raised by this time, but technological developments including cigarette-making machines that could produce about 200 cigarettes per minute, were increasing the number of cigarettes available—and consumer demand, fueled by marketing, was rising to meet the production numbers.
It isn’t until the twentieth century that smoking is definitively linked to lung cancer and shortly after that the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning is forced on packets. But it still took five more years before cigarette ads were banned on television in the U.S. In 1973, airlines were ordered to create non-smoking sections. Finally, in 1988, the Surgeon General’s office declared nicotine was an addictive drug. So when the Christian-based PTS uses the phrase, “For I give kids their downward start,” they are not far off.
Not every Christian denomination carries the same belief, of course. I found a website called “What Christians Want to Know” that addressed the question of whether smoking cigarettes was a sin.
The fact remains that moderation in all things is a Godly attribute. Smoking is obviously not healthy and the believer should be diligent in their efforts to quit but what is there in this world that isn’t good for you
Jesus was more concerned with what came out of the mouth (in words) than what was going into it saying in Matthew 15:11, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Yes, you can still be a Christian and smoke. Is it God’s will that you would quit? Of course because God tells us we are to be perfect and to abstain from every appearance of evil and He desires that we live a happy, healthy, prosperous, and long life. But at the same time, we shouldn’t judge those who do smoke or those who we see are not perfect.
As for alcohol, some, perhaps many, Christian organizations and leaders also believe moderation is key. From NTLWorld, an essay titled “Is It a Sin for a Christian to Drink Alcohol,” is this conclusion:
We have plainly seen that the Old Testament portrays wine and strong drink as blessings which God has granted to Mankind, not as a curse. But all of God's blessings can be misused and abused. Good food is a wonderful blessing, but do we say to people, 'It is better not to eat because of the danger of gluttony'? Do we say to young couples on their wedding day, 'It is better not to have sexual relations because sexual lust has ruined many a life'? Do we ever say, 'It is better not to make money because riches and prosperity have destroyed lives'?
For the same reasons, Christians should encourage responsible drinking, rather than tell people that they should not drink at all, this goes way beyond any mandate we have from God. The Bible is continually positive toward the wise use of alcoholic drinks, and we can - and should - be too.
What strikes me most about this bookmark is not only the painful stridency but its archaic and severe approach. Does this even work any more?
Bookmark specifications: --Said the Whiskey Flask--
Almost since her childhood days of Mother Goose, Lauren has been giving her opinion on books to anyone who will listen. That “talent” eventually took her out of magazine writing and into book reviewing in 2000 for an online review site where she cut her teeth (as well as a few authors). Stints as book editor for her local newspaper and contributing editor to Booklist and Bookmarks magazines has reinforced her belief that she has interesting things to say about books. Lauren shares her home with several significant others including three cats, nearly 1,300 bookmarks and approximately the same number of books that, whether previously read or not, constitute her to-be-read stack. She is a member of the National Books Critics Circle (NBCC) as well as a longtime book design judge for Publishers Marketing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards. Contact Lauren.