Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

Hominy & Hash

by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. -- Don't get me wrong. I do hate the tobacco industry and it was this hatred that fueled my decision to quit smoking in the late '70s, after 30 years of never leaving home without my only true "friend." Cigarettes got me through thick and thin and except for the times I thought I'd be richer by not smoking, the notion of quitting was never quite sincere.

When I learned, however, that nicotine was addictive - a fact known to the five or six companies manufacturing the 150 different brands, I got mad. I thought I smoked because I wanted to, not because I had to. I thought I threw the extra pack of cigarettes into the shopping cart instead of the extra gallon of milk because it was easier than going out later - and I knew I would go out later for cigarettes but never for anything else.

In spite of my ties to this substance, both addictive and habitual, I always knew smoking was a personal choice. My initial one, made as an ignorant 13-year-old, was a bad one, but choosing to continue lighting up was a choice made by my sadder yet wiser self.

But this is not about my trek through a smoke-filled lifetime; it's about who to blame for my residual cough and wrinkles.

Should I blame R. J. Reynolds? I don't think so. P. Lorillard? I don't think I could blame either one of those tobacco tycoons and still keep a straight face. No one remotely connected with those companies ever, ever, lit my cigarettes, the number of which climbed to 485,800 before I finally broke the habit. With the exception of one or two gentlemen with an ever-ready Zippo, I lit every one myself.

I know where the blame lies. So, I was surprised to receive a letter from a law firm this morning addressing me as a "smoker" - I must be in an old database - and I quote in part:

"Upon request, we will also send you a package of materials necessary to initiate your litigation against the tobacco industry. You are required to pay nothing out of pocket. We work on a contingency fee, which means we only collect if you win. Further, we cover all expenses of the lawsuit, and we are only reimbursed those expenses if you win."

Smokers are gamblers to begin with - otherwise, they'd never have smoked another cigarette after the Surgeon-General's first report on smoking and health. That law firm is taking a gamble and the smoker is taking a bet he can't lose. If he the smoker doesn't win now, he can still rest assured his heirs would be able to profit if he dies of a self-imposed disease. As long as someone is older or has smoked longer and still functions in= society, the smoker feels safe.

I can still remember my first cigarette. I called it a cancer stick and Mary, my peer influence, called it a coffin nail. We laughed and we each lit our own. We knew what we were doing; we didn't care. The tobacco companies knew what they were doing and they didn't care. Fault rests easily on all parties shouldering the blame.

Hundreds of companies have sprung up selling nicotine gum, patches, cassette tapes, self-hypnosis, and lectures to help smokers quit, convincing them it's impossible for them to make it on their own. There are no guarantees, of course; we're dealing with human nature.

I like Peggy's way. First, she wanted to lose weight. Her comment on how she did it was "I figure it takes 10 minutes to eat a sandwich; I'll do something else for 10 minutes." And those 10-minute breaks from the table added up to 30 pounds lost in a month.

Peggy tried that same philosophy to stop smoking: "I figure it takes eight minutes to smoke a cigarette. I'll do something else for eight minutes." Within a month, Peggy was a svelte non-smoker and it didn't kill her.

While still a smoker, your thoughts are about not leaving home without them, unless you're on your way to buy, beg or borrow some; even then you'll have the crumpled pack with one last cigarette waiting to be lit - but not until you reach the store. As I'm sure you can tell, I've been there. The cancer sticks become your best, or only, true friend. Individually, they never disappoint; cumulatively, they kill us.

A song popular during World War I, first in England and then here, was called "Smile, Smile, Smile." It was about a charming little codger who kept the rank-and-file laughing in the face of disaster. It began, "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile."

The next line might not make sense to us now, but they sang, "While you've a Lucifer to light your fag, smile boys - that's the style!" A Lucifer was a match, a fag was a cigarette. As long as the boys had those two things they could smile through it all at the time, but not forever. (The choice of "Lucifer" as the slang word for light certainly wasn't sugar coating what it was doing.)

Even that long ago, a true smoker knew exactly where to place the blame. Personally, I think it's embarrassment that keeps us from acknowledging the damage we do to ourselves. It would be nice if we never started, but we did; I did.

I quit and I didn't die. Check the statistics for yourself: discover nobody ever died from quitting.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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