Food For Thought

Don't Smoke In My World!

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

C.P. is a greeter at the local Wal-Mart. His blue vest, with more than 325 buttons given to him by customers, attests to his popularity. During the trout-fishing season, I frequently visit the store to purchase fishing worms. He always has a friendly smile and a big hello. Several times he has inquired how my son Mike is doing with his battle against cancer.

On one occasion, he spoke about his own experience watching his wife suffer with lung cancer, which eventually took her life. He said to me, “If she had only quit smoking when I did some 20 years ago, she may still be alive.” You could see the pain in his face as he talked about losing her. I thought about my own dad’s battle with lung cancer and his smoking habit, but being a coal miner probably also contributed to his contracting the disease. Many of you probably have a similar story to tell of losing a friend or loved one to cancer or some other disease brought on by smoking. We can only ask, “Why would anyone want to smoke with all the information showing that smoking contributes to numerous health problems?”

I was a smoker during my late teens and early twenties. I promised my wife when my daughter was born that I’d quit smoking, and I did. That was over 40 years ago. I was burning up three packs of Camels a day and I hated it. But it was the “in” thing to do in those days, so most people smoked. I had a pack rolled up in my T-shirt sleeve as I drove my pink-and-white Mercury, with its cruiser skirts, through the coal-mining towns of Western Pennsylvania. The pack was a sign of being macho. It would have been more appropriate if I’d had a skull and bones printed on the sleeve. If I had continued to smoke, chances are that now I’d be a box of bones rather than writing this column.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 21.6 percent of people in the U.S. smoked in 2003. Smoking among women has dropped below one in five for the first time in nearly 30 years. Other research also shows that, the less education people have, the more likely they are to smoke. I guess that’s at least one good reason to send your kids to college. In my days as a public school administrator I asked, in a principals’ meeting, why we were providing smoking areas. I thought it was hypocritical to provide the areas while teaching the dangers of smoking in health classes. One principal said, “If we don’t provide the smoking areas they’ll just smoke in other places.” I responded by saying, “I guess every community should have a bank for people to rob, since we are going to have bank robberies.” I don’t believe that smokers should be accommodated in public places, which brings me to my next point.

Every week after church my wife and son, and occasionally his fiancée and her daughter, eat at a local restaurant. Some of the eating establishments, just like the schools, provide a smoking area. When you walk through the door the hostess asks, “Smoking or non-smoking, please?” I realize by requesting “non-smoking” I’m going to have a longer wait to be seated. You get the privilege of faster seating because you’re a smoking customer.

And who are they kidding, thinking they can control the smoke in a building? Why must my family and young kids be exposed to pollution in a public eating establishment? You’d think that most adults could control the desire to have a cigarette for at least the time it takes to eat a meal.

On a recent visit I confronted the manager about my concerns and his response was normal. He said that he would prefer to have the business be all “non-smoking,” but would lose the business of smokers and take a hit financially. That’s why our government representatives need to pass a law designating all public restaurants as non-smoking areas. This action would eliminate the financial issue associated with competition for smokers’ business. The additional research on second-hand smoke should be sufficient reason to require a non-smoking environment in all public eating places.

I also wonder how much longer we can continue to rely on cigarette taxes to support government programs. I believe taxing cigarettes gives smoking a sense of legitimacy. Smoking in the open-air environment should be considered with all types of pollution, such as car exhaust and industrial chemicals. Pollution from cigarettes is clearly not in the same league as car exhaust or industrial chemicals, but I still believe it should be banned in public eating places.

Also, smokers should pay more for medical insurance, just as they pay more for life insurance. Why should non-smokers pay for another person’s dangerous choice to smoke? Insurance companies charge more for drivers who have poor driving habits. If you have a bad health habit such as smoking, your rate should go up. After seeing what a carton of cigarettes costs, I can’t believe that so many people are willing to see their hard-earned income go “up in smoke.”

Recently, at a stoplight, I watched a car full of young teenage girls, all with a lit cigarette. It was a disgusting sight. Somehow, we are not getting the message across to young people, and please don’t blame the schools.

As the Good Book says, the love of money is the root of all evil. And let’s face it — tobacco plants have deep financial roots. It’s been a cash crop for many states, including Virginia. I have compassion for the farmer, but times have changed. And I firmly believe that no one has an eternal right to produce a product, especially one that endangers the health of so many. The solution is simple: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, then quit, just as I did decades ago. Your family and you won’t regret it, and your wallet will have extra money to take your family out to eat – in a smoke-free restaurant!

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: DrBmailbag@aol.com, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

 

 

 

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