We don’t smoke and we don’t chew

“We don’t smoke … we don’t chew … and we don’t go with girls who do.”

I hadn’t heard that old ditty for many years but when I heard it again recently it reminded me of how things have changed over the years.

The last two decades of the 20th century were no lucky strike for the tobacco industry. After decades of being the trademark of sophistication, smoking fell to a new low in popularity and has continued falling. How long has it been since someone offered you a cigarette?

After my father quit the habit “cold turkey” in 1959, smoking was a taboo in our home. Somewhere up there with looking at pictures of naked ladies, I think. I must admit to having broken both interdictions.

Because it seemed the cool thing to do, I did try smoking a few times. It gave me no pleasure. In fact, I couldn’t inhale. It’s difficult to look like the Marlboro Man when you’re choking. Besides, tobacco always spelled trouble for me.

A friend and I, for instance, were driving to a basketball game in Dad’s ’57 Ford. He offered me a cigarette which I couldn’t turn down because he was younger than me.

We cracked the windows (to prevent any chance of Dad and Mom smelling cigarette smoke on the way to church the next morning) and lit up. As I lifted my cigarette to the window to knock off the growing ash, the wind blew it back in on me. I tried to sweep it off my chest but discovered later in the evening that it had burned a hole in my new coat.

The next day I told my mother that someone had thrown a lighted cigarette at me while I was enjoying a Coke and a burger with friends at the M&M Cafe after the game. I eventually told her the truth … about 15 years later. I wish she would have acted more surprised.

I even suffered when someone else smoked. One summer afternoon two of my brothers and a visiting cousin came home sick following an afternoon of play. The poor dears were so ill my mother put them to bed and made me deliver their afternoon newspaper routes.

By the time I returned home they had confessed. They had been smoking out by the railroad trestle east of town. Their confession-tale of trying to climb the steep embankment while vomiting was enough to make me sick. After having to deliver their paper routes for them, though, I had no sympathy.

The one time I was brave enough to try to buy cigarettes over the counter, the store clerk looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you really 18?”

I didn’t answer. Just turned around and left, embarrassed.

As time passed, I decided that perhaps I was a cigar man; just puff and chew without inhaling. Besides, the fact that those cheap cigars tasted like year-old doggy doodles, they made me light-headed.

In a last-ditch effort to join the ranks of the cool smokers, I bought a pipe. I was in college by now but still had a few zits and figured a pipe might make me appear older. And I heard that college chicks really went for the aroma of a good cherry blend tobacco.

I don’t know what it did for my looks but a pipe definitely did not attract college (or any other) women. To make matters worse, I couldn’t keep it lit.

By the time the Surgeon General was making a lot of noise about the harmful effects of tobacco, I had given up on attempting to look cool.

Of course, I’m happy now that I never did pick up the tobacco habit. I have my ice cream and that’s good (or bad) enough for me.

Sometimes I feel sorry for the few smokers remaining. They have been made the social lepers of the 21st century when, in fact, there are habits and actions which are more disgusting.

Smoking irritates me less than someone’s incessant blasphemy, the babbling of an obnoxious drunk or a parent who fails to discipline a bratty child.

Don’t misunderstand. I was happy to see smoking significantly reduced. I wish everyone would stop smoking. As George D. Prentice once said: “Much smoking kills live men and cures dead swine.”

Besides, when the urge to run to the store for a half gallon of Bunny Tracks ice cream strikes at 10 p.m. I understand addiction.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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