I was in the second grade the first time I lit up. A neighbor of mine, who was a year or so older, let me try one of his. He was in the third grade and already addicted.
I don’t recall if I inhaled; I do recall getting dizzy and nauseated. You’d think that would’ve been enough, but in the 1950’s it seemed that most adults smoked… including my older brothers and brothers-in-law, so trying again didn’t seem all that stupid. I don’t remember my sisters smoking and I never saw my parents smoke, although I was told that Dad had quit some time before I was born.
Between the second grade and high school, my friends and I experimented from time to time. Once we bought a package of Bull Durham. For five cents, we got a bag of tobacco and twenty cigarette papers. We clumsily managed to roll one or two cigarettes apiece, but most of the tobacco and papers went to waste. Again, I don’t recall whether I inhaled or not, but I do recall the dizziness and nausea.
Another time. my friend who had supplied that first smoke in the second grade, built his own water-cooled Turkish pipe. We smoked corn husks and got more than nauseated. We never tried that again.
Unlike many who have sued the tobacco companies, I don’t blame the advertisements as much as I blame peer pressure and my role models.
My mother was adamantly opposed to smoking, yet she tolerated the members of the family and their friends who smoked in our house. In fact, I remember the Metropolitan Insurance agent who stopped by weekly to collect the premiums (ten cents per week for each of my brothers and I). He was always smoking a smelly cigar and nobody thought anything about it. Mom simply made sure there was an ashtray nearby.
As a member of the Key Club (junior Kiwanis) in high school, I attended a few conventions out of town. As soon as we got to wherever the convention was, my buddies and I would buy cigarettes or cigars. I vaguely remember a brand called Trends, which were shaped like cigarettes, but stronger – like cigars. By this time, I was inhaling and sometimes getting dizzy, but no longer nauseated.
For the younger people reading this, back in the 1950’s there were all sorts of rumors about the health hazards of smoking. First and foremost was that smoking would stunt our growth. More importantly, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that smoking caused cancer. This had not yet been scientifically proven, but we called them “cancer sticks” or “coffin nails.”
The standard line of many smokers was “It will take me twenty years to get cancer; by then they’ll have a cure.”
Well, that was sixty years ago, and the cure for all cancers has still not been found.
In college, I smoked from time to time – when I could find a heavy smoker willing to share, or (rarely) when I had enough extra cash to buy my own. Cigarettes had increased in price since my second grade experience (when a pack would cost seventeen cents). At $.35 per pack (the price of a hamburger and coke), I didn’t waste the cash on such luxuries.
After graduating from college I got a real job and started earning more money than I’d ever had in my life. When I should have been old enough to know better, I became a regular smoker.
By the time I quit for good (the first time) I was in my forties and smoking three packs a day. I had quit many times prior to that, but the longest I ever lasted was a few months or so. But this time I was off for five or six years!
But you know it didn’t last. One evening I was sitting talking with a group of smokers and bummed one from one of my friends. The “one” soon turned into two, three, and so on. The next day I felt obligated to pay the guys back, so I bought my own pack and shared. The following day, I bought a carton and was soon back to my three-pack-a-day habit.
It took me another ten years or so to recognize that I absolutely had to quit for good. This time I knew I could not ever even have “just one”. At the beginning of October, 1998, I threw my remaining cigarettes away and began my smoke-free life. I have not so much as touched one since then.
And the sad part? I still crave cigarettes. When I smell the smoke of someone else, it still smells good to me. My addiction is obviously more than physical.
I’ve told my bride that if I ever come home with a carton of cigarettes, it means I’ve been to the doctor and told I have a terminal illness and very little time left.
Sad, isn’t it. But that’s what smoking can do to a person.
If you’ve never smoked, keep it that way. If you currently smoke, recognize all the reasons why you should quit – cost, health, whatever. Try to convince yourself that you’ll be better off without cigarettes. Don’t quit for anyone else but you. That’s the only way it will work.
I quit cold-turkey, but if you need the patch or gum, do whatever it takes. The longer you smoke, the harder it is to quit. And when you quit, always remember how difficult those first few days are. You won’t want to repeat them. That will help you to stay “quit”.
End of sermon!