Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Name: Ira Sharenow

What He Does: Anti-tobacco activist

CLAIM TO FAME: Banned restaurant smoking in Madison, Wis.

Ira Sharenow rarely misses a city council meeting. Nicknamed the “21st alder” on Madison’s 20-seat council, the anti-tobacco activist serves his city in the self-appointed role of gadfly.

Sharenow spends up to 40 hours a week gathering information about the tobacco industry and its politics for journalists, legislators, and other activists. His diligence has paid off: In 1991, Sharenow successfully organized a smoking ban at the University of Wisconsin, where he is a graduate student; a year later, he was instrumental in getting a smoking ban in restaurants citywide.

“He’s the leading activist in the state of Wisconsin,” says Scott Brezinski, an intern pharmacist and former fellow student.

Not afraid to confront those in power, Sharenow meticulously documents tobacco industry contributions to Wisconsin politicians. He’s asked Gov. Tommy Thompson about tobacco ties at press conferences and on radio call-in shows. In 1993, Sharenow brought an ethics charge against a prominent Madison lobbyist for not disclosing that Philip Morris paid him to lobby against the restaurant smoking ban. (The ethics charge failed because Madison doesn’t require lobbyists to say who pays them.) Another tobacco lobbyist called Sharenow “dangerous and evil” after Sharenow claimed the lobbyist was worse than a mafia attorney for taking tobacco money.

Sharenow’s activism is so relentless that even some tobacco control groups are leery of him. One official at the American Heart Association once told Sharenow he caused more harm to the anti-tobacco movement than Philip Morris, because he won’t compromise. “He doesn’t give up,” agrees Sharenow supporter Jean MacCubbin, a Madison City Council alder.

Sharenow, who is allergic to smoke, became active because the head of his math department allowed smoking in the building. He took the fight all the way up to then-chancellor Donna Shalala, and won. Ever since, Sharenow has devoted himself to attending council meetings, pressuring politicians, and writing letters to the editor.

“Even when I’m doing the dishes,” Sharenow says, “I’m thinking about who to write letters to.”

Know of any people who are raising a bit of hell? E-mail hellraiser@motherjones.com

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate