Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Step Toward Removing the Tobacco Yoke

One last restaurant blow and it's all quiet--and smoke free^

Let me offer my condolences to all you smokers who won't be able to light up in most restaurants and bars in Virginia beginning today. I realize that you believe your whole life will change, that you will become less interesting and that you will no longer have a social life. I felt like that when I quit smoking, then a year later when I quit drinking.

Didn't happen. In both instances, the freedom from addiction offered much more of a life than I had and the smoke-free-dom began when Jim Lindsey, the publisher of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, where I worked at the time, banned smoking from the office. I had to stand outside in all kinds of conditions, on display to the world, sneaking a puff like a crack addict trying to hide his addiction. The embarrassment of that helped me decided to quit. Maybe the restaurant ban will help you break your addiction.

The problem with smoking is not so much that it hurts you, but that it imperils me. Frankly, I don't care if you choose to kill yourself slowly--it's none of my business--but if you're killing me, it becomes an issue. The second-hand smoke kills a large number of people--despite what my old pal Glynn Loope says. Glynn, who puffs on a big cigar much of the time, is a tobacco lobbyist. Never have figured out what made a decent guy like Glynn a tobacco lobbyist, but my guess is that we all have to be something.

When I was growing up, most adults--by a wide margin--smoked. Smoking was promoted everywhere (ads, movies, television) and even soldiers' K-rations contained cigarettes. I always equated the tobacco companies intrusion into our soldiers' meal times with drug dealers hanging out on the corner near the junior high giving away free samples to potential customers. Addicted an entire generation, the tobacco boys did. I got hooked in high school, smoking cigars on road trips with my friend Turk and later became a three-and-a-half-packs-a-day cigarette smoker. Yes, I lit one on another. Yes, I smoked in the shower, in the bed, on the john, everywhere.

And no, it wasn't a "habit," as my mother called it; it was an "addiction," just like my alcoholism. I couldn't leave the house without taking two packs of cigarettes with me. I didn't go to the homes of people who didn't smoke and I didn't venture anywhere that smoking was banned. I smoked as I drove cars with the windows closed and children in the back seat. I smoked in the presence of people I knew were allergic to it.

I hope some of you smokers will consider today your first day out of the self-made prison and will take steps away from it and toward the freedom you can have. My promise is that it's a whole lot better where I sit, breathing without the wheeze.

The freedom I get to enjoy beginning today will be the freedom from having to ask the waitress to move me as far from the smoke as possible because if I get a whiff of smoke, I projectile vomit. Amazing how much quick action that little assertion brought.

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