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
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!
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.