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There's nothing cool about smoking

The Great American Smokeout, a day when tobacco users are encouraged to stop using, will be Thursday.

Tobacco has come a long way. I remember as a child — I’m really showing my age — when store clerks and professional people would smoke on the job. It wasn’t unusual for the person taking your money at a grocery store to have a cigarette in their mouth.

I remember our family doctor smoking in the exam room and waitresses puffing on cigarettes before they brought our food to the table.

I love the old television shows — Andy Griffith Show, Dick Van Dyke Show, My Three Sons. The stars of those shows smoked. It was a status symbol. It was common for a man on TV to come home from a hard day’s work and his wife would have a cocktail, a pair of slippers, a smoker’s jacket, and smokes — cigarettes or pipe — waiting for him.

Most of my classmates in Ottawa smoked. School officials at my high school became so weary of students smoking in the bathrooms that they allowed us to have two smoke breaks a day during school and even made a smoking patio for smokers to use.

Can you imagine if a school official suggested something like that today?

My parents smoked. It was the last thing I smelled at night when I went to sleep and the first thing I smelled in the morning when I awoke. As a teen and young adult — before smoking was considered bad for one’s health and when children smoked and chewed tobacco — I tried to smoke. I could never get the hang of it, I guess. Thank goodness, I never developed the habit.

I know it can be a tough habit to break. My mother was an educated, intelligent person but she could not kick it. She tried all kinds of medications and remedies to help her to quit but couldn’t. And then there are those, like my better half, who smoked for decades and decided to quit. He now has been a nonsmoker for decades, which will likely add decades to his life.

Cigarettes are no longer a quarter a pack and we’d be hard-pressed to find any business with smoking allowed since the state banned smoking in public places. Any juvenile caught using or possessing tobacco could be issued a ticket.

Hopefully, parents are smarter about knowing when their children are using tobacco and say something to them. Hopefully, they realize that it is a big deal when a child smokes. It’s not a phase or a wild streak. A teen smoker typically becomes an adult smoker.

Smoking is no longer considered cool but a threat to everyone’s health — particularly non-smokers. When most of us walk into a room where someone has smoked, we notice it. It stinks. We’re not used to it and most of us don’t like it. Thirty or forty years ago, we wouldn’t have noticed because we smelled it everywhere we went.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the only places a person couldn’t smoke were in churches and movie theaters. Otherwise, it was everywhere.

According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S., yet 43.4 million Americans still smoke. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women. Thirty percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking. This year in Kansas, an estimated 1,900 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 1,590 people will die from the disease. In the U.S., tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths. On average, smoking reduces life expectancy by approximately 14 years. More than 17 percent of Kansas high school students currently smoke cigarettes.

The most troubling statistic is secondhand smoke is estimated to cause approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide in nonsmokers each year. In Kansas, 380 people will die because of secondhand smoke.

So when someone asks, “Do you mind if I smoke,” we should say, “Yes, I do mind because I care about you — and me.”

— susan berg

Last modified Nov. 18, 2010

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