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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Product of Smoke: I Am the Son of a Cigarette Salesman

What I am going to say may seem traitorous and unappreciative, but I can assure you that it's not. You see, as times goes along and we discover important findings, we must change. To live in denial and to continue to support detrimental beliefs and actions is irresponsible. So, what I about to say is not something most people supported in the 1950s and in the 1960s when I was growing up and becoming a man.

My father sold R.J. Reynolds tobacco products for 30 years. The company was extremely successful with its cigarette brands such as Camels, Winstons, and Salems. He earned a good wage in a time when many people smoked and most doubted any serious risks associated with the habit.

I loved my father very much. He was a good man and a good salesman, and he worked hard while providing extremely well for our family. In fact, his wages provided the principal source of the funds for my college education. The other three people in the family -- my dad, my mom, and my older brother all smoked cigarettes when I was young.

As a youngster, I never considered the health problems associated with smoking. Smoking was just a normal, everyday part of living at home. My parents smoked before I was born and continued to enjoy smoking during all of my years living with them. Ashtrays, second-hand smoke, and smoky rooms were normal to my environment. I thought smoking around others was perfectly fine.

Yet, when I was young, ten or so, my father -- this cigarette salesman and outspoken proponent of smoking who sported a smoker's rights bumper sticker on the family car -- took me aside and asked me never to begin smoking. He had started smoking cigarettes in his teens, yet he hoped his son would not follow the same road and begin a habit he knew was at the very least, unattractive and potentially hurtful. Of course, I dutifully promised him I never would smoke, yet I felt confused.

You see, at the time, I thought his plea was rather hypocritical. I already had friends who sneaked a cigarette or two. Smoking was all around me. Reynolds Tobacco Company actually supported my very existence. And, I was relatively sure most "cool" people indulged in the habit. But, I listened and found his forthright tone to be serious and indicative of some greater knowledge than I possessed.

I actually reflected upon my father's request repeatedly during my teen years as I saw many friends acquire the habit and as I was tempted to smoke myself. I tried a puff or two, but never seriously considered beginning the fixation. Time and again, Dad's voice rang in my ear, and I felt obligated to keep him proud with my resistance. With cigarettes all around me -- samples and packs of friends and family -- I never started smoking. Yes, at that time Dad routinely took samples to other businesses and places of employment. Remember too, he was a veteran of World War II, and as a soldier, he served in an army that freely supplied troops with cigarettes.

Dad lived to a good old age but passed away quite a few years ago. Today, at age 63, I am smokeless. I never began the obsession. Of course, now we all understand the serious health problems associated with cigarettes. The physical and financial cost to Americans is staggering.

And the tremendous expense of smoking for an individual is unbelievable! According to Frank A. Sloan, Ph.D., a professor at Duke University and author of the book, The Price of Smoking, a pack of cigarettes can be very costly to not only the smoker, but also the smoker's family and society. Dr. Sloan concluded that the lifetime cost of smoking to a 24-year-old male is $183,000. The figure increases to $220,000 after adding in the costs absorbed by taxpayers for public health care. This translates to almost $40 per pack for a lifetime of smoking.

(Danielle Enderson. "Facts on the Cost of Smoking Last Updated." August 16, 2013)

 I don't know how anyone who is not a member of the upper class affords smoking. Use this resource to find out what a smoker can save. (American Heart Association Financial Cost of Smoking Calculator, click here:

Our family has become very defensive about those who insist upon smoking around us. We feel it is the height of insensitivity to subject others to second-hand smoke. We feel we have the right to breathe smoke-free air as we travel to places we must visit. We defend this right when necessary.

My wife and I stopped attending the American Legion, a club we thoroughly enjoyed, because people insisted upon breaking the law and smoking inside the premises. In addition, we tell those who stand outside local hospitals and schools and smoke about the rudeness of their perceived public privileges. We encourage people not to smoke and to enter cessation programs if they are addicted. And, we urge pregnant mothers who smoke to stop immediately. We see this as good work and responsible action.

In addition, we cringe when we see those we know who are on public assistance purchase cigarettes and smoke them. Although smoking is their right, we believe ignorance and bad habits, especially smoking, lead them to other problems -- health concerns, monetary shortages, nutrition problems -- and, stubbornly, despite associated ills many continue to rely on the taxpayer's dole to support their bad habits. Without knowledge and commitment, these people actually "bite" the system that "feeds" them.

Many talk about random drug tests for welfare recipients. I wonder if they consider drug testing for tobacco use? The Centers for Disease Control confirm that an estimated 42.1 million people, or 18.1% of all adults (aged 18 years or older), in the United States smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths, or one of every five deaths, each year. And, more than 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking.

It is painfully clear what my father meant when he told me to practice what he preached and not what he did. When he sold cigarettes, the verdict was not in; however, evidence was beginning to show the negative consequences of smoking. I am sure he wanted his son to live the healthiest life possible. Even though he long held a questionable habit, he urged me to never smoke.

I thank my father every day for raising me, for working hard to do so, and for giving me advice about things he knew would make my life better. Not smoking was a major lesson. If he hadn't had one conversation with me, I'm pretty sure I would have tried smoking.

I am the son of a cigarette salesman. Some today might cry out in anger about his profession. I cannot. I will not. I know better. He was not a killer. He was a firm believer in providing a product he considered pretty much an option as a rite of passage for an adult. Times change and so do attitudes. Dad also taught me to learn from the past. I oppose smoking because I understand intimately the history of the product and the habit.

News Today

The 2014 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Building a Culture of Health county-by-county, was released last week. Scioto placed last (No. 88) in health outcomes and 86th in health factors. Then, on April 2, 2014 headlines greeted Scioto Countians with more bad health news. Now, this ...

"The Tri-State region of Huntington-Ashland, comprising parts of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, is listed as the “worst-off metro area” in the nation according to a Gallup-Healthways survey of several hundreds of thousands of Americans in 189 metropolitan areas in the U.S. in 2012-2013.

"The survey recorded the physical and emotional health of the residents, as well as financial, employment and social indicators, among others. The resulting Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index allows for comparisons between places and over time.

"According to the Gallup-Healthways survey, several factors formed a thread that ran through the category of America’s most miserable cities. For example, residents were less likely to be in good physical health and conversely, more likely to practice unhealthy behaviors. Another indicator was smoking tendencies. In all of the nation’s 10 most miserable areas there was a much higher than average smoking population. In fact, in the city listed as the second most miserable area, Charleston, West Virginia, slightly over 35 percent of people said they smoked. That was the worst rate in the country.

"Income did not factor into the rankings, but those conducting the survey said there was a wide gulf between the income levels of America’s most content. In each of the 10 cities with the lowest well-being scores, incomes were lower than the typical American household. The worst-off metro area, the Tri-State region of Huntington-Ashland, and adjoining cities in Ohio, the median household income was less than $40,000 in 2012."

(Frank Lewis. "National Survey Identifies Region as the Most Miserable." 
Portsmouth Daily Times. April 2, 2014)

Face it, poverty, smoking, bad health, and miserable living are synonymous. Perhaps curbing the smoking habits of those who live in the Tri-state Region is the most sensible, most direct route to improving many of our ills. As the liberty to smoke infringes more and more upon others' rights to life and happiness, the public must act to address the issue.

In Scioto County, 23.6% - 36% percent of adult residents currently smoke cigarettes (depending on whose statistics are used). An analysis of Ohio birth certificates showed an astounding 30.4% of mothers living in Scioto County smoked cigarettes during their pregnancy.

During 2004-2006, cancer was the second-leading cause of death for residents of Scioto County, resulting in average of 186 deaths each year, while chronic lower respiratory diseases was the third-leading causes of death for Scioto County residents during 2004-2006.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in Ohio (Ohio Department of Health, 2006). Cigarette smoking is not only causally associated with lung cancer, but also nine other sites/types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, and numerous adverse reproductive outcomes including low birth-weight and infant death.

Of the residents living in Scioto County in 2004, 19.9 % of adults 18 years and older and 6.6 % of children 17 years and younger did not have health insurance.

(Healthy Ohio Community Profiles. Scioto County. The Ohio Department of Health. 2008 and County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

According to the American Lung Association, every day, almost 3,900 children under 18 years of age try their first cigarette, and more than 950 of them will become new, regular daily smokers. Half of them will ultimately die from their habit.

Please stop smoking if you already smoke. And, at the very least, urge your children with all of your might to never begin the habit. I think Dad would be proud of me for saying this despite his personal habit of  smoking. Incidentally, my mother is 93 years-old and gave up smoking decades ago as did my older brother. I'm proud of both of them for keeping up with the times.

“If all boys could be made to know that with every breath of cigarette smoke they inhale imbecility and exhale manhood ... and that the cigarette is a maker of invalids, criminals and fools—not men—it ought to deter them some. The yellow finger stain is an emblem of deeper degradation and enslavement than the ball and chain.” 

  -- Hudson Maxim (1853 – 1927) U.S. inventor and chemist who invented a variety of explosives, including smokeless gunpowder. Thomas Edison referred to him 
as "the most versatile man in America."

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