If you feel outrage when someone lights up a cigarette near you, even at an outdoor event, you may be too young or not remember how far we've come in almost stopping public smoking. I was reminded of that this last week when I had to go to a throat doctor for a minor problem. He asked if I had ever been a smoker. I told him that I was briefly in my foolish youth. We then reminisced about how so many of us had acquired that habit back in the day.
It seems almost impossible today to think of how people would light up anywhere. If your college professor did not object, you could smoke in class, and often the professor smoked too. Some classrooms had ashtrays. Smoking was not prohibited in hospitals even in patients' rooms or in most doctors' offices. The doctor himself might smoke as he sat at his desk discussing your ailments.
Smoking was allowed on airplanes. I remember returning from a trip to Germany when the three men across the aisle from my seat chain smoked for eight hours. The plane's air was literally blue with their smoke.
Almost all schools had a Teachers' Smoking Lounge, and in my dad's school days, students had a smoking area as well. Restaurants, bars, even certain movie theaters allowed smoking.
My college sophomore year my dorm roommate and I decided we wanted to start smoking to (get this) "have something to do with our hands at parties." So, we each pitched in fifteen cents and went down to the dorm snack bar, the Co-ed Club, to buy a pack of cigarettes from the cigarette machine. We debated over the brand, but finally decided on Pall Mall's. I'm not sure this brand is even around any more. Back in our room, we practiced smoking in front of the mirror, questioned each other if this posture or that one "looked awkward." A few days later, we decided to go public. We went back down to the Co-ed Club to have coffee and a smoke. We felt a little self-conscious, but felt our debut was a success.
Our plan had been deliberate and we smoked socially during the rest of our college days. Probably because we started late, not at 14 like my dad, neither of us developed a life long addiction. Almost everyone on campus smoked in those days. It was the cool thing to do.
Center for Disease Control statistics indicate that in 1965, 42.4% of all adults in America were smokers. By 2009, that had decreased more than half to 20.6%. Statistics for teens were not kept until 1991. At that time, 27.5% of teens smoked. In 2009, that had decreased to
19.5%. So, we are making headway. Today, few people would accept seeing their doctor light up in his office or tolerate smoking on an airplane.
It shouldn't have been a surprise when so many people developed respiratory cancers, emphysema, and asthma during and after those smoky years, but somehow it was. Cigarettes were advertised in all the media and icons like Edward R. Murrow smoked on his television talk program. He died with lung cancer as did many other smokers of the movie and television professions. Finally, we caught on.
It is rare to see a movie hero smoke today, but a few years ago, smoking was part of the sophisticated persona of most movie characters. There used to be a brand of cigarettes targeted for women called Virginia Slims. The ads portrayed liberated women and their slogan was "You've come a long way, baby." Now, I'd have to say that is true about smoking cessation.