Weekly Gems from Ronda Gates.
He was smart, self-assured, had a great sense of humor, and was competent in his field. Comments about his active lifestyle peaked my interest as I thought, "this is a guy I'd like to get to know better." Our across the table conversation at a fundraiser revealed that, like me, he loved music. Unlike me he enjoyed "projects"-fixing things. He'd designed and built the vacation home he and his wife enjoyed before she died. He appeared to be interested in me too so I was pleased when he got up from his seat and moved to an empty chair next to mine. I looked at him more closely. He was nicely dressed-a gray suit that accented his silver hair. It was evident that despite his age he still had an athletic build. He asked me to dance. I smiled, enjoying that he grabbed my hand as we headed to the dance floor. The music was slow. I suddenly felt fifteen again-shy and wondering what this first dance would reveal. As he gathered me in his arms my good feelings deflated. His clothes smelled of cigarette smoke. I was in the arms of a smoker. As I looked up at him he smiled and his yellowing teeth confirmed-I was not smelling second hand smoke.
I felt my body tense. All my good will slipped away. Happily the song ended quickly and when I turned away-headed back to my chair he said, "How about another one?" "No," I responded and continued to my seat. He followed and sat beside me again.
I grew up believing that it was important to be polite. When my husband and I decided, in 1963, before we were married, that our home would be cigarette free, we were out of synch with the world. Although it gave me more than a few awkward moments when I had to remind a guest that our outside and inside the house posted "no smoking" policy was not a joke, my values (and the vigorous protection of my family's health) always prevailed. One of the memories of my mother, a "secret" smoker, was when she first visited my family when we moved to Oregon. She was outside, after dinner, under the pretense of killing slugs, smoking a cigarette she thought we couldn't smell. My mother-in-law, visiting later, complained vigorously about our unacceptable social behavior with an "I can't believe you would treat your guests that way." We were ahead of our time and proud of it.
In the intervening years my life and lifestyle has been such that I almost never am around people who smoke. I was well aware of the perils of the addictive powers of nicotine and the diseases precipitated by the tar and heated smoke and wanted no part of it. More recently I lost a friend who meant a lot to me to lung cancer. She didn't smoke but her husband was a forty-year two pack a day smoker-until six months before her diagnosis. His death, also from lung cancer, followed a year later.
Sadly, tobacco use is now a disease of the young as well as my young at heart dinner partner. According to the American Lung Association more than 6,000 children under the age of eighteen start smoking for the first time every day. Close to 2,000 of these become established smokers. When I was in college it was "cool" to use a cigarette to be sophisticated. Health professionals report it's cool again. Many high profile young entertainers smoke-in many cases because the calorie free cigarette is a better alternative for managing nerves than food. I've no statistics but would bet that there are many cigarettes extinguished before those skinny stars hit the red carpet. Cigarettes are once again appearing with increasing frequency in movies. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, adolescent girls are more than twice as likely to take up smoking if they see their favorite movie or music start light up. Seeing Brad Pitt, John Travolta, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others with a cigarette in their hand delivers a powerful message. Product placement, where companies pay to have their product visible in a television or movie scene is on the upswing. I think it's appalling.
Age has given me wisdom, self-confidence and a willingness to "tell it like it is." As my new acquaintance sat down beside me I turned to him and said, "Art, I'm enjoying your company immensely and am glad we've met. However, I have to be square with you. I do not keep company with people who smoke. To his credit he wasn't indignant. He admitted it was a habit he was eager to give up-the stress of recent years had precipitated resumption of a habit he'd stopped long ago. I patted him on the hand and said, "When you lick it, call me." I hope I hear from him some day. I will not hold my breath.
Smoking is a difficult habit to quit. When I was doing my counseling internship in the recovery community I discovered that alcoholics and drug addicts could quit the drugs and alcohol easier than they could give up cigarettes. I particularly remember one five day workshop I staffed where several recovering addicts decided to give up their cigarettes. They soon became the meanest folks I'd ever met. If you have a friend or relative who smokes I don't envy you. If they express a desire to stop smoking, provide all the resources and support you can. Neither of you will regret. It.
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