Sunday, November 10, 2013

the ashtray says you were up all night

I am not a fan of cigarettes. My father smoked like a chimney, starting in February 1944 when he joined the US Navy for a two-year hitch at the end of World War II. Although he claimed he had quit at various times, he didn't. He stopped smoking when he died. His father smoked until he died from emphysema. My father smoked and watched his father die from a disease directly related to smoking. He continued to smoke anyway. 

When I was a kid, my father used to send me to buy cigarettes for him. There was a market within walking distance of my house. My dad would give me fifty cents for a pack of cigarettes and an extra dime to buy a candy bar for my trouble. The store owner didn't bat an eye as he handed a cellophane-wrapped package of Viceroys over to a seven-year-old.

I have vivid memories of my father waking each morning with a dry, hacking cough. Bent over, he would brace himself with his hands on his low dresser and cough uncontrollably. Then, when the coughing subsided, he'd pop a cigarette in his mouth and fumble for his lighter.

My mother smoked as a young adult. She continued to smoke after she married my father, not at all pausing through two pregnancies. She eventually quit when I was in high school and became a militant opponent of cigarettes. Being married to a chief offender was difficult and maddening. On regular household cleaning days, my mom would remove disgusting, yellow residue from nearly every piece of furniture in our house — their bedroom furniture accumulating the worst of it. My father would smoke at the dinner table and crush his cigarette butts out on his plate.

In the middle 90s, my immediate family took our first trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario. We marveled at the natural majesty of the falls and the surrounding landscape. We had a blast visiting the hokey tourist attractions on nearby Clifton Hill. We stopped in a small convenience store and were floored by the price of cigarettes. My wife and I are not smokers, but the $7.50 (Canadian currency) per pack price was incredible to us. A clerk explained that the cost was mostly taxes that funded the nationwide health care. We gave fair warning, on a subsequent trip, to friends traveling with us. They were smokers. During our trip, they ran out of cigarettes. If they wished to smoke, they would have to pay the high Canadian prices. They did and they did. (A quick Google search reveals that cigarette prices in the United States have caught up to or passed the Canadian prices of twenty years ago.)

So, now after years of research, it has been determined that cigarettes are bad for you. They can be traced as the cause of or a contributing factor to any number of ailments and diseases. They make your clothes stink. They make your hair stink. They make your breath stink. They impair your breathing. They impair your ability to properly taste food. They are expensive, commanding a price as high as twelve bucks a pack in New York.

Yesterday, I passed a woman sitting on the curb on 15th Street as the busy Philadelphia lunchtime crowd hustled along the sidewalk. She was clad in a dirty pink winter coat. Her knees were protruding from large holes in her dirty jeans. Beside her was a dirty, wrinkled plastic shopping bag that held, I imagine, her few worldly possessions. She held a torn piece of corrugated cardboard upon which she has scrawled: "Homeless. Hungry." Between two fingers, she squeezed a burning cigarette. Based on the current prices in Pennsylvania, that cigarette cost 34 cents. If her being homeless and hungry is presented (as her handmade sign advertises) as my concern, then her smoking is my concern as well. Even if she bummed that cigarette, it seems as though that was a bigger priority than obtaining food or shelter. I refuse to help someone who takes no interest in helping themselves.

In the introduction of an illusion performed by magician Penn Jillette, he puffs on a cigarette and states: "Hey kids, don't smoke... unless you want to look cool."

Some people don't get the joke.


  1. I've chosen cigarettes over food before. I don't expect that you can understand that either. It's just not as simple as "don't do it". It's like your dad trying repeatedly to quit. He saw a reason to quit, but always went back to it because he found something in the activity that he couldn't leave alone. Nobody quits smoking because they've been told to quit. They might actually smoke more out of defiance.

  2. The tobacco companies are counting on it.