Saturday, October 18, 2014

No Smoking

When I was growing up smoking was not just normal, it was cool and the tobacco companies would have you believe it was glamorous, even sexy! I can't think of anything less sexy than smelling of stale smoke and that awful early morning hacking smokers cough, not to mention the stained teeth and foul breath. But almost everyone smoked. Even while pregnant, and as bad, while nursing. In our defense, we didn't know it was bad for the baby. We didn't even think it was bad for us.

When I was twenty I worked as a secretary in a financial services company. I shared an office with my boss, glass walls so he could keep an eye on the workers in the main office, and a closed door so they couldn't hear his dictation, or telephone conversations, so no air. And he was a chain smoker. The office, everything in it including me, reeked of smoke. I don't remember now, but I am sure that the walls and ceilings were stained.  By the end of the day there were ashtrays on his desk filled with butts and ash, and the ash was scattered over the desk and papers and wherever it happened to fall from his always present cigarette.

People smoked in cinemas, theatres, restaurants, on 'planes and on buses (though I do remember when you could only smoke on the upper deck of the bus, in their own homes and in any  home they happened to visit and of course in bars. No one had come up with the idea of going outside to smoke. The movies and billboards were filled with smoking. Cowboys struck matches on their pant legs to light up - very macho and cool and I never could figure out how they did it.

Even in hospitals! Here is a classic photo of my beautiful mother. This was taken when she went to visit my sister who was in hospital, you will notice my mother is smoking. She used a cigarette holder not to be glamorous, but by that time the suggestion that tobacco was bad for your health was being bandied around and someone came up with the idea of using what was then ( in the '60s) very popular, the cigarette holder, to take a filter, just a small plastic tube filled with silica gel, through which the smoke was drawn, the idea was that the silica gel would absorb the tar and allow the smoke through. It definitely trapped a lot of the tar, because I remember being fascinated by the filters she threw away - they started out filled with white crystals and finished up a deep brown mess.

What is particularly scary about this photo is that my sister was not just in a hospital, she was in a sanatorium - a tuberculosis sanatorium. That is a lung disease... right? But in the '60s it was OK to smoke anywhere, even in a ward full of tuberculosis patients, most of who were a lot worse off than my sister whose illness was caught early.

Back then pregnant women smoked and drank alcohol, that is to say they didn't stop doing what they were doing just because they were pregnant. Today the sight of a pregnant woman with a cigarette in her hand is just unheard of - thankfully!

Now smoking is considered anti social, one of the very few place I have seen where an exception is made for smokers is at Atlanta (and I know in a few other airports) Hartsfield Jackson Airport. There there is a glass enclosed room, with an automatic door so you don't forget to close it, filled with people, mostly standing, puffing away between flights. The room is thick with smoke and when the door opens to let someone in or out, the smell is awful.

Offices have designated smoking areas - outside - and I notice that the distance from the entrance has been increasing over the years. In many areas smoking is not allowed even in bars.

We no longer see the Marlboro Man on billboards (a good thing as it is said that four of them died from smoking related diseases), no more TV or Cinema ads and you won't see your favorite hero lighting up on the screen. I have to admit, Marlboro was my choice and I am sure it was the rugged cowboy that drew me to it. Then I moved on to Lucky Strike, definitely these ads were designed for me.

The awful addiction to tobacco has spawned a whole new business, quit smoking aids. From prescription medication (and that really does work - my husband is a testament to that) gum and lozenges laced with nicotine - swapping one addiction for another, patches and hypnotism. As far as I can see, one of the biggest incentives must surely be the cost of a pack of cigarettes today!

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