Saturday, December 18, 2010

A "Little Stream of Smoke"

Last week, I was sitting in a hotel room probably doing something on this laptop, and half listening to an HBO documentary on Fran Lebowitz, the writer. It was sort of interesting, and I would stop from time to time to pay closer attention. It was during one of those interludes with the TV that I heard Ms. Lebowitz comment on the subject of second-hand smoke.

Basically, she doesn’t believe that it is nearly as harmful as it is made out to be. I don’t have a quote, but she was commenting on the “little stream of smoke” that comes from a cigarette being too little to cause any issue.

My thought: Spoken like a true nicotine addict.

I should know. I lived with them my whole childhood and into my early adulthood.

I have always detested cigarette smoke. (Let me clarify, I don’t detest smokers.) I detest the smoke, the mess, and the cigarette industry. I detest the stink. I detest the illnesses. Ultimately, I detest the dishonesty that the nicotine industry has brought so many of us; from the companies who produce the cigarettes lying about their dangers to the addicts who consume them lying to themselves about their addition.

I grew up in a smoking home, in a smoking city, in a time when EVERY adult (and many kids) smoked. Everyone I knew smoked: mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, neighbors. There were a few exceptions, but the key word is few.

The smoke infiltrated every nook and cranny of our home. The tar coated the walls and the windows. The smoke got sucked up by the furnace intake and was shot out all over the house. There was no where that I could truly escape from it except to go outside, and doing that in the winter was not a long-term option.

I used to spend a great deal of time in the basement…to avoid the smoke. When watching TV, I would often do so on the floor…to be under the cloud of smoke in the room. I spent a good deal of my young life coughing, hacking, and getting over colds.

So, from an early age, I was always anti-smoking. Sometimes, I would border on the militant as an anti-smoking advocate. I would harp and nag at my folks to quit. I would beg. I would plead. As I grew older, I became belligerent about it. As a teen, I became my mom’s driver….for my own comfort (I felt safer when I drove); and when she would light up, I’d either crank up the radio to irritate her, or I’d pull to the side of the road and get out and wait for her to finish. Not all that respectful….I know. What can I say? I was a teenager.

She would always say: “I’ll quit if I ever find out it’s hurting me.”

She was true to her word.

When she was diagnosed with throat cancer, she quit.

She beat the cancer, but died anyway a few months later due to complications created by the treatment, and a really weakened body. In our family, she is a sandwiched loss due to cancer from smoking between her brother (lung cancer) and my brother (throat cancer). Then, there are the other losses in our family due to heart conditions likely finding a root in the smoking addiction; my dad, uncles, others.

A few months after my mom’s death I took a phone call from a woman who asked for my mom by name. As is my custom, before I told her that Marge DeCamp had passed away, I asked who was calling. She replied that she was x(don’t recall the name)x from some national smoker’s rights advocacy group.

I replied: “My mom died a few months ago from cancer caused by years of smoking.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she said. And then: “I really apologize. This is just a job.”

Oh, really. You might want to get a different one. That’s what I thought, but I don’t think I actually said it.

My sister recently quit smoking too. She was lying in the hospital, and a doctor told her that she was a sixty-five year old woman with an eighty year old’s body.

Some young people seem to find smoking “fashionable.” Really? When my smoke-addicted mother used to burn her own hair with her cigarettes, I didn’t think that was very fashionable. When she lived with us and I had to force her to smoke in the garage in the winter to keep her from burning her bed and our carpet (putting all our lives at risk), I doubt she thought that was very fashionable.

Burn holes in clothes, stinky hair, yellow teeth, nasty ash trays, cancer, heart disease, and self-deceit. What’s not to love?

So, does that “little stream of smoke” really hurt other people second-handedly? Maybe not too much all by its self, but combined with dozens of other little streams, I think so. At the very least, I don’t want to be breathing it in against my will.

Ms. Lebowitz can lie to herself all day long, as can so many other smokers, but please do it in the privacy of your own home. Let the rest of us have the fresh air.

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