American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 28, 2006
NO BUTTS ABOUT IT
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It was a surprise to see a front-page article prominently featured in London's Sunday Times online edition counting the minutes until Scots will no longer be able to smoke in their beloved pubs. Before I finished reading the article, more minutes were clocked.
We went through similar countdowns, county by county, in the last year or two. There was a lot of hullabaloo before the cut off date but not much of an aftermath. I asked if business had suffered but the Bar and Grill owners I questioned said that new customers were coming in - people who didn't come in before because of the smoke. Smokers left their drinks on the bar and stepped outside for a smoke. Even that habit faded after a week or two.
But, Scotland, now, there the government took on the whole country in a no-nonsense approach. After the initial grumbling, there will be no problems with being denied the "right" to smoke in the last public bastion available to the smokers. There has never been a problem for a smoker to be in a place where NO SMOKING signs were in place. Subways? Buses? No problems.
Some of the best conversations I've known were about why we started to smoke, usually at the tender age of early teens. We wanted to look older. Well, that's a laugh. Do we still want to look older? Is that why we smoke? More laughter all around.
"I thought I'd look sophisticated," was another. How could we not laugh at this matron, cigarette between her lips as she spoke, a quarter in her cold fingers feeding the parking meter? We got our wish to look older but certainly not sophisticated.
I once asked a man who smoked cigars all day long just how he picked up the habit. He squinted through the smoke, and said - slowly, as if recalling the days - "Well, I was about eight years old and I'd go with my Pop to place the dynamite along the old trolley tracks being blasted loose. We all had to keep cigars lit and we'd follow along and light the fuses. Before that summer was over, I was smoking cigars full time."
Reversing the reasons, I stopped smoking because I didn't want to look older; and, as for sophistication, I had to stop smoking if I ever hoped to achieve that charming demeanor.
We can try to figure out what could possibly make us feel that ground leaves wrapped in paper, touched with a flame, smoking and smoldering as we held it between our lips, would be enjoyable. But, we did have role models so we were convinced it was worth a try.
During the month of February "Turner Classic Movies" were aired as a special on cable television. Day after day I caught one of them and without exception, each person from star to bit player smoked. Doctors in their offices smoked, patients in hospital beds smoked. Elevator operators smoked.
On the big screen, dinner dates started with lighting cigarettes before scanning the menu. And, the smoking was not done in the personal circle of air around one's face. The smoke came streaming out of one person's mouth right into the face of his smiling date.
On the screen, lighting a cigarette created the dramatic pause called for in the script. In real life, it did the same thing. Or, as smokers learn, they swallow their anger or hurt with their smoke. Cigarettes are used as a seventh inning stretch. A cigarette is shifting gears from one task to another. And in between these moments, a cigarette is there just for the heck of it. A smoker smokes.
Since I now live in a world so relatively smoke-free, I find it abhorrent to see such smoking going on as it did then with little regard for the non-smokers at the table or in the restaurant. Yesterday I saw "Sabrina" with Humphrey Bogart. He put on his suave look, cigarette in hand, a lighter in his grip. My mind's eye image of one of his last interviews, sitting in an outdoor chair, giving in to lung cancer but joking nonetheless, overshadows that of the man dancing with Audrey Hepburn.
By the time we grew up and had families of our own, we knew better. We couldn't stop, or didn't think we could, we just wished we had never started. So, we tried to convince our children that it's a smelly, dirty habit that will take it's toll physically. Some of them still smoked because at the age smoking starts, parents' advice is suspect.
Then the drug culture descended upon American families and if we suspected tobacco, we'd say: "Well, at least it isn't crack." Role models were negative images of anti-heroes. The early teens are still the age of wanting to look older and if sophistication is not part of their language or makeup, fitting into the peer group is.
Fifteen is the age of finding yourself; it's when your image is set. Self esteem is either at an all time high or a down-in-the-dumps low. I can't speak for the Scots although I am Scots-Irish myself. It's the American culture that fostered the cigarette habit in me. And, as well, it was the American Medical Association that spear-headed the drives to promote healthy living beginning with clean air.
That movement started with one lady in California who objected to smoking in an elevator. California's no-smoking laws were first. More and more often in America, one person can have a decided effect on which laws are passed affecting us all.
It's only one person who chooses to smoke cigarettes, our self; after all, we say, "there's no law against it." Although in many states the law allowing it is for those who will stay at home to smoke, stay away from public parks, stadiums, and remain 15 feet from the entrance to buildings. They can smoke in their cars if the windows are rolled up.
The Scots will find out as we did that it's a real bother to continue to smoke. It's becoming harder to smoke than it is to quit. And, if as it is claimed the Scots are thrifty, then wait "˜til they see the savings!
Almost every smoker I know would like not to be a smoker. But there are a few diehards left who won't quit - on principle. Oh, "diehards" - that's a poor choice of word. I checked my thesaurus and it suggested "old fogey" as an alternative. Okay, only a few old fogies are left who won't quit on principle. The thesaurus also suggests stick-in-the-mud instead of diehard, but no. I have a few old-fogey friends but I've never met a stick-in-the-mud I liked.