Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.
My home state of NC has launched a “Tobacco-Free Me” pledge program to poised to keep kids from ever trying a cigarette. I applaud that initiative, vote in favor of sky high taxes on cigarettes and praise lawmakers around the world for every bit of legislation that makes it hard for anyone to smoke. And getting to the kids before they start is, I think, maybe the most important of all. I know all too well.
I was born in the tobacco capital of the world, Winston-Salem, to a family with deep ties to the industry— a great-grandfather sold the first train load of RJ Reynolds products. As a RJR stock-holder, I got free samples of new cigarettes in the mail— when I was all of 10 years old. I wasn’t smoking then, but the heady sweet smell from the factories, mixed with the smoke from the finished product implanted in my Dad’s hand, was already doing a number on me.
I had my first cigarette at 14. Martha Ann Young’s older brother fell asleep on the sofa watching Bonanza and we fingered a couple like the sneaky kids we were. (Martha Ann also introduced me to wild boys, so you know the kind of friend she was.) We were so impressed with our sophistication – impossibly cool with heads cocked and arms gracefully arched, showcasing our cigarettes for all the birds to see— as we knelt under the magnolia behind her garage.
I bought my first full pack at 16, for a whopping 20 cents and the clerk no more asked for my ID than for me to jump straight up. (I sold individual butts to my little brother for a quarter— made him slide the coin under my bedroom door before I’d roll the cig back to him. I was hooked on supply and demand too.)
My sister smoked, my teachers smoked, my dog smoked. I graduated from RJ Reynolds High school and in college preferred my papers rolled with tobacco rather than the grass my roommates introduced me to. I never worried about smelling like smoke, because everything in my world smelled like smoke: my friends, my car, my Cheerios.
Fast forward a few decades. I emerge from a nicotine fueled haze and found the world had changed. The smoke-free zones had spread as fast as ice in a frying pan, and included not only restaurants, airplanes and offices but also my sister’s garage, my son’s boat and my boyfriend’s bed. I could still smoke in my apartment, and presumably behind Martha Ann Young’s garage. But that was about it.
And finally I had enough. So four years ago I put the patch on my arm and took the monkey off my back. I had a relatively easy time with it because I viewed it as not quitting something I liked, but becoming something I wanted to be: a non-smoker. I didn’t want to smoke for a number of reasons, including of course, my health. But the lock-down on places to smoke and the pressure to not partake in such an un-cool, un-sophisticated and un-healthy habit certainly weighed heavily on me.
I didn’t know that not doing something could be so joyous. Usually pleasure comes from action… riding a horse, having a glass of wine, going to the movies. Every day I am happy to not have to light up after a flight, with a cup of coffee or when I am stressed. I don’t have to bum a light, try to hide a coughing fit or interrupt a nice dinner to go puff. I have more money, fewer colds and less droopy skin.
When I was growing up society did everything but light the cigarettes for me. And then finally society demanded that I just-for-heaven’s-sake-go-ahead-and-quit-already. I am thrilled that the charge against this dreadful drug is not losing any steam.
I am not ashamed of my family’s heritage and connection with tobacco. But it was a way of life that thankfully is going up in smoke.