What a Strange Habit it Was

We are far enough into the 21st century now to look back at the last century.  I think we have almost seen the end of two strange habits from that dreadful century.  The first is smoking.

Maybe 2009 was the year the nation kicked the habit.  Many trends start on the east and west coasts, and Topeka, Kansas is one of the last places to catch on.  But last year Topeka instituted a smoking ban.

Two things amaze me.  The first is how easy it was to quit.  There were a few wheezing whiners who lamented the loss of their constitutional right to light up, but mostly smoking bans were accepted without a cough.  Two years ago I was in Europe and they had also accepted smoking bans with very little protest.

Who would have thought that the tobacco lobby would lose their grip on the political process–after years of funding maverick scientists who denied the link between smoking and death?  Who could have imagined that senators from Virginia and North Carolina would give up the battle for their traditional way of life?  It is almost a miracle that we as a nation kicked the butts of the tobacco industry.

The other thing that is amazing to me from my vantage point now is how ubiquitous cigarettes were.  When I was a child every TV talkshow host punctuated conversations with a cigarette.   Chivalry demanded that a gentleman offer a light to a lady.  We kids knew all the jingles of the cigarette companies.  Our parents bought us candy cigarettes–the same way parents buy toy guns for their kids today–harmless fun.  For school crafts or shop class projects, we made ashtrays for our parents.

When I was in high school we knew we would be treated like adults when we went to the local community college, because they had a smoking lounge.  Cigarettes were fashion accessories.  Never in the history of free enterprise has their been such a successful marketing campaign!

Of course the tobacco companies had a big advantage–their product was highly addictive.  Malcolm X said he was convinced tobacco was as addictive as heroin.  The same scientists who publicly denied the harmful effects of cigarettes were carefully manipulating the nicotine levels to keep their subjects hooked.

But there were other scientists who were studying the effect of nicotine on the brain–and they have found ways to break the chains of the addiction.  There is plenty of help out there for those who are ready to quit (here is one example.)  I advise young people who smoke: You will quit someday, when your doctor puts you on oxygen and tells you you will blow up if you light up.  And it won’t be any easier to quit then.  You might as well quit now and enjoy the benefits.

The photo of Dean Martin above is one of “5 Celebrities” with lung disease.  The distinction of being the youngest of the celebrities with self-inflicted emphysema is Amy Winehouse, who was diagnosed at the age of 24.

My wife hates cigarettes, always has, though she usually keeps it to herself.  She has never been judgmental about people who smoke.  She is now taking care of her mother who is dying of lung disease.  Sonja said it out loud this weekend,

You know, I really hate cigarettes.

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