Smokers had their dayDo you know what I found really interesting about North Dakota when I moved back after having been away for 20-plus years? There are still so many people who smoke.
By: Kevin Holten, The Dickinson Press
Do you know what I found really interesting about North Dakota when I moved back after having been away for 20-plus years? There are still so many people who smoke.
Having traveled all over the country over that same period, and particularly in the western states most recently, I rarely saw people who smoke. In fact, there are 33 million people in California and I think maybe five of them smoke. Seriously, I’m not kidding. You can live there for months, maybe even a year, without ever seeing anyone smoke.
To your average Californian smoking is a little like listening to an eight track tape, watching black and white TV, wearing a leisure suit, going to a disco dressed in an open collar silk shirt, driving a car without air conditioning, buying shag carpeting for your living room and inviting your neighbors over for fondue. It’s just….old. And, of course, then there’s the fact that smoking causes wrinkles and Californians don’t like wrinkles unless they’re caused by the sun. Because, as we all know, tan wrinkles are much more attractive than white wrinkles.
According to statistics, 25 percent of the U.S. population smokes. That percentage has to be higher here. In California smoking has dropped 41 percent since 1988, with only 13 percent of the population lighting up a “grit.”
And when was the last time you saw a Hollywood megastar on TV or in the movies smoking a cigarette? It just doesn’t happen. Of course there might be more toxins in the Hollywood air than there are in a lifetime’s worth of cigarettes but that’s another story. So if you’re a smoker who’s planning on vacationing in California, don’t bother because you’ll be very lonely and have to drive to Las Vegas just to have a cigarette anyway.
Now I realize that the average adult probably starts smoking about the time that they quit wearing diapers, get their first pimple, officially store their toys in the attic, no longer want to be seen with Mom and Dad and go to their first junior high dance. And it’s during this particularly vulnerable time, when they are still young, dumb, immortal and rapidly becoming addicted to being cool, fitting in, wanting to grow up sooner rather than later and being moderately misinformed about the nicotine death grip, that the grip gets its tightest hold.
In fact, my dad was a smoker when I was a kid. He used to sit in the corner of the living room in his Lazy Boy and suck on Old Gold cigarettes until you couldn’t see across the room anymore. And he’d even light up in a car stuffed with relatives on a cold winter day and it wouldn’t be long before I’d be depositing my breakfast by the side of the road. But the Army got him hooked along with almost everyone else in his generation, back when cigarettes weren’t bad for you, so they said, except that they might take your breath away if you were to climb Mt. Everest or trek across the Mojave Desert.
And then there are the aesthetic things that go with smoking like yellow teeth, yellow fingers and clothes with burn holes in them that smell like they survived the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. I had an uncle who smoked Camel filterless cigarettes forever, or at least until his heart burst when he was 62, a big rancher whose meaty fingers were as yellow as a yield sign, road grader or stripe down the middle of the highway. I used to throw hay bales around with him in searing heat when he was in his 40s and he could toss a square bale from here to the Gulf of Mexico, or so it seemed, and probably would have lived to be 150 if he hadn’t smoked. But that’s the way it goes.
We’ve learned a few things about cigarettes since then and in addition to the lung cancer, heart diseases and circulatory problems that cigarettes are most famous for, there are the issues of hair loss, dulling of the taste buds, impotence and weakening of bones that now go along with premature aging of the skin and gum disease, just to name a few.
And cigarettes just aren’t sexy anymore, not since the Marlboro man died of lung cancer, and especially when you see an attractive young lady driving by with a cigarette propped in her mouth like some middleaged, dirt caked welder and think about what kissing her would taste like.
Not that I have anything against smoking. I’m just surprised that so many people do it when they know the inevitable outcome is something akin to jumping off the top of an oil derrick, running into the middle of a twister, playing chicken with a stampeding cattle herd and telling your wife that she’s overweight.
Recent estimates of the annual cost to the United States in smoking-related health care and lost workdays are at least $100 billion a year. Whew, $100 million a year. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather buy than your future oxygen tank with that kind of money.
— Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation communications coordinator.