I have some thoughts on this federal smoking legislation — the House and Senate railroaded a bill raising the age for legal tobacco consumption from 18 to 21 last week — but mixed in with every argument is something intensely personal. Because I’m a smoker, and I want to stop.
The law is ridiculous. Either we become adults at age 18 or we don’t. But a 21 drinking age cracked the windshield and this law will go down without a whimper. And I fear that this age threshold is a slippery slope that might be applied to voting, which is terrifying, or to set a precedent in age for legal marijuana, which would be as ineffective and unfair as this new tobacco legislation.
But then there’s this: Today I bought what I hope will be my last pack of cigarettes.
I’m taking another shot at severing a connection with smoking that I’ve had since I was about 15 years old. Probably even further back.
In the time and place of my youth, everybody smoked. My mother chose colored Dunhill’s to match her outfits. My father crushed cigarettes by the dozen from his easy chair in the den. My grandfather preferred a pipe in the house and cigars everywhere else, and my grandmother secretly snuck cigarettes in the bathroom until she was into her sixties. I know, because when I was 15 years old I figured I could sneak in there behind her and have a quick smoke, and whomever smelled that telltale scent of match and ash would blame her and not me.
Every public place, every vehicle, every restaurant and bar and bowling alley and movie theater and even church rectory fairly reeked of cigarette smoke when I was a kid. There was a smoking section at my high school. So different from now; I haven’t smoked a cigarette on the toilet in a long time.
We bought our cigarettes from machines, which used to be everywhere, but also from the corner store, a kiosk inside Woolworth’s at the mall, the deli… nobody looked twice at a 15-year-old kid buying a pack of Camel Lights in 1985. But mostly we stole them from our parents.
It’s no good, of course — a socially alienating, slow suicide, marked by that stale-smoke smell we smokers carry around and don’t even know about.
Until we stop.