My parents were teenagers in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Like many of their peers they smoked. My father continued on through his service in the Army in Korea, while attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering and back in Minnesota as a young father and electrician. After dinner one night, he pushed back from the dinner table and put an X on the calendar. When my mother asked what it meant, he told her she would figure it out. He never smoked again. This all took place before I was born, I never saw him smoke and I tried my best never having him see me light up.
My mother smoked through all three of her pregnancies. She smoked while her kids were going to elementary school, high school and college. She smoked all the way up through the births of her grandchildren until a medical emergency finally halted her habit. She smoked Viceroys when I was little and Pall Mall Gold 100’s by the time I was in high school. I never knew anyone else who smoked these brands, until I started pilfering the occasional cigarette or pack from her. I wondered how Pall Mall even stayed in business.
My brothers never developed the habit. I remember that by the time my best friend and I started smoking we agreed that if cigarettes ever reached a dollar a pack we would quit. We would smoke Eve and More cigarettes, long and skinny, More’s were brown and looked like cigars. We smoked Benson & Hedges, the occasional Tareyton whose slogan was “I’d rather fight than quit.” and whose ads always featured someone with a black eye. Tempting. Merit 100’s were the smoke of choice at the break table when we were waitresses in high school.
By the time I got to college, it was more than a novelty, it was a regular habit. An annoying one to my two roommates. I tried a couple of times to quit that year, as a courtesy and for financial reasons. I determined that if I smoked menthol that fewer people would try to bum cigarettes off me when I was out somewhere. Clove cigarettes were a fragrant herbal blend that some of us thought were somehow a “healthy alternative”. Study breaks became “smoke breaks” and my coworkers who didn’t even smoke would ask if I had “time for a smoke” when they needed to check in or have a talk. My sophomore roommate and I were both smokers, our room often having a blue haze hanging in it. A few of my coworkers who smoked would gather after meals to smoke or dig in our sofa cushions to find change to buy a pack from the vending machine in the lobby of our on-campus residence hall. It was the 1980’s and the idea of a smoke-free room on campus was preposterous.
When I met my husband we were both smokers. We got hypnotized to quit on a Tuesday, less than two months after we got married. It seemed to be working until that Sunday when word came that my dad had died and we each hastily bought a pack at the gas station as we filled the car to head from Mankato to Minneapolis. A few months later we quit again and it stuck. I went on to have two kids, never smoked while I was pregnant, my husband would have an occasional cigar when at a wedding or with his Army buddies.
When we bought our first house and settled into a neighborhood in St. Paul, we would gather with neighbors around a fire pit and one night I accepted a cigar. From there the occasional cigar became a 15 year habit smoking Cherry Swisher Sweets. I never smoked in my home, my car or at work. It was referred to as “the bad habit” and was something I would do after the kids went to bed at night, out on the deck with the dog. Then I got to the point where I would just openly smoke when in a social setting, like Friday Happy Hour. Eventually it seemed like a relaxing plan to read the morning paper, with a cup of coffee on the deck with a mini cigar. It was a daily habit, which in Minnesota meant it could be snowing or below zero.
My kids in particular were not fond of my habit. The cost had long passed the dollar maximum (the tax per pack alone exceeding that) and there were few places but a casino where you could smoke inside in Minnesota and even there they didn’t want cigars, even the small ones packaged like cigarettes with filters. So at fifty I decided to not smoke. I determined that “not smoking now” was a more flexible plan that wouldn’t end in defeat if I smoked. Saying you “quit” meant that if you smoked, it was over, basically that you “started” again. This plan has worked successfully for three years, during that time I have smoked but not more than a handful of times and never at home.
Smoking numbers are down in Minnesota and there is nobody unaware of the health ramifications associated with smoking. Smoking ads have not existed on TV or radio in the United States since January 2, 1971. Billboards and print media featuring tobacco are not nearly as prevalent as they were when I was a child, yet ads on TV and radio keep proclaiming that marketing is directed at our youth and yet the ONLY time I see or hear about tobacco products is during these anti-tobacco campaigns.
A current radio ad features the portrayal of a boy starting out on grape cigars as a kid and then being hooked on regular cigarettes by his 18th birthday. The TV ad (currently running on Minnesota stations) with the super long link at the bottom of my page is a truncated version of a California anti-tobacco ad. Literally the only exposure to fruity tobacco products being shown or discussed on Minnesota airwaves are being provided by stillaproblem.com. I think it’s an ill-advised campaign to show young children gathered around a table heaped with fruity scented and colorfully packaged tobacco. Then again, if kids were unaware such products existed, they would not seek them out or find them desirable and start using them, if that happened a lot of jobs in the anti-tobacco industry would go away. We have a legal age to purchase and use these products and require identification to verify it. The only reason the picture at the top of this article and the ad referenced at the bottom of this article exist is because an adult broke the law by providing these products to children. I think we are all in agreement that we don’t want our children or anyone to start smoking or chewing. When will we start demanding that our tax dollars stop being used to expose children to these products?