I took my first puff when I was about eight. It was also my last puff. I was in the breakfast room when my mother gave me a cigarette and I still remember the resulting coughing fit. How she devised this anti-smoking strategy, I never knew, but it certainly was effective.
My disdain for all things tobacco prevailed throughout my youth as I helped to badger my father into limiting his habit to the outdoors and, eventually, to forswear it altogether. As a young adult, I despised the smell on my clothing and did not hold back expressing my feelings to co-workers. My family happened to be traveling in 1991 on the first day smoking was banned on airline flights in America and I was interviewed by a local television station at the San Francisco Airport. I’m sure I said something pithy about my relief that the scourge of smoking on airplanes was finally over. Think about it; it has only been twenty-two years since fellow passengers could light up in an airplane under the ridiculous fiction that their odious odors were confined to the rear.
We were clear on the issue of smoking in raising our children. When they were little, they were not allowed to refer to any other person as “stupid,” but an exception was made with my wife Katie’s somewhat reluctant assent. If we passed a smoker on the street or were in line at a store when someone purchased cigarettes, our young children were encouraged (by me, at least) to declare aloud, “they’re stupid.” Their synapses were, thus, effectively wired. In restaurants, I was apt to wave a napkin conspicuously in the direction of puffers. Fortunately, that is rarely necessary anymore.
I’d always maintained I would never date a smoker or even an ex-smoker. Besides the fact of the smell and filth of the habit, I felt it evidenced a serious character flaw. A smoker was idiotic, and/or unable to resist peer pressure, and/or suicidal. My determination lasted until I met a Greek airline attendant during an otherwise bleak vacation in Paris (well, we weren’t technically “dating”) and, several years later, further gave way when I learned that Katie had, in fact, smoked while she was in college, a decade before we were married. Yes, I can be flexible.
Barry Goldwater once stated: “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” I adapt his thinking to the issue of smoking, namely: “Intolerance in distaste for the indefensible is no vice.” Rarely exposed to indoor smoke for decades, imagine my shock during a recent drive through South Carolina. I stopped for breakfast at a luxurious Waffle House and, in what seemed almost choreographed, all the surrounding patrons lit up around me just as my pecan waffle arrived. Apparently, the ban that adheres in Charleston’s lovely establishments does not extend state-wide.
Now that they have taken us back to 1963 in so many ways, I hope the nuts in our North Carolina legislature don’t get any new ideas.