Should tobacco be highlight of city’s celebration?

Like many older American cities, Edgerton, Wisconsin, has a proud and honorable heritage.  On a recent, and hot, weekend in July, the city celebrated that history with a ceremony entitled “Tobacco Heritage Days.”

That Edgerton would continue to celebrate “tobacco” as its heritage is understandable, but troubling.

It’s understandable since at onetime it was nicknamed the “Tobacco Capital of the World.”  Yes, in Wisconsin, and not Virginia or North Carolina.  Due to a combination of available railroad transportation, favorable soil and climate, a thriving tobacco industry grew up there about 150 years ago.

According to the celebration’s website: “Over 55 tobacco warehouses, both frame and brick, lined the main streets and railroad tracks. The town boasted several fine hotels which were full to overflowing when tobacco buyers from all over the country and Europe conducted business with the local dealers and growers. Sadly, no hotels remain, but several yellow brick warehouses are a testimony to our city’s hey-day.”

Furthermore some tobacco farming is still going on in the area; therefore it makes some sense to celebrate the crop.

Yet, it’s troubling, largely since society at large now realizes the harm, both in personal health and in costs for the entire economy, that occur from the habit.

State laws have banned smoking in public places for two years now, and in general the large majority of people approve the prohibitions, even among smokers themselves.  Most smokers take their first cigarettes as teens or young adults, and so many are doomed to a lifetime of smoking, many to an early death or debilitating illness.  And, as we all know, once you get the habit, it’s a real challenge to kick it.

The celebration’s website tucks one small disclaimer in its history section, “We do not encourage the use of tobacco by young people / adults. We are informing you on the history of this crop, how it came to our area and made our city what it is today.”  Sadly, that’s hardly enough to override the publicity promoted by using “tobacco” in the celebration’s title.

Why Edgerton continues to celebrate its heritage in the name of King Tobacco mystifies me.  It’s a community with a proud population and obviously has much to offer.  Why not just call it: “Edgerton Heritage Days?”  I’m sure the folks attending will enjoy the same fun and community spirit as ever.


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