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"They asked me how I knew ... "

Posted Tuesday, December 16, 2008, at 5:14 PM

Good news, everyone!

In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that smokers can sue cigarette makers for the way they promote "light" cigarettes.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a gigantic waste of time?

Why are we still fighting about cigarettes? And in the Supreme Court, yet. The country is in the midst of an economic collapse and we're still embroiled in class action lawsuits about cigarettes.

Please raise your hand if you have any doubt in your mind that cigarettes are unhealthy and that their use can lead to illness and death.

Oh, look! I see one person way, way up there in the cheap seats who hasn't gotten the message.

Congratulations, sir (or madam -- can't see clearly that far). You are one of the half-dozen or so human beings on the entire planet who hasn't heard that news. That news, which was first made public in January 1964 by the office of the Surgeon General of the United States.

The health warning on the side of every pack of cigarettes has been there since 1965. TV ads for cigarettes and other tobacco products were last broadcast in 1970. Smoking hasn't been allowed on domestic flights since 1990.

The use of tobacco is down, but there are still a lot of smokers out there,and in 2004, it was still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

And yet people still smoke.

So a reasonable question is this: Why do people continue to pursue such an unhealthy habit? With all the available information and all the proof any reasonable person could demand, why, even when forced outside to stand in the rain, the sleet, the snow and the heat, do people continue to smoke?

This is the easiest question I will answer all day.

Because WE LIKE IT.

Like the alcoholic who keeps drinking, the diabetic who keeps eating food that's on the "forbidden" list, the overweight man or woman who keeps eating too-large portions, the many who don't wear seat belts or the drug addict who continues to do drugs, we like what we're doing and don't want to stop.

If we wanted to stop, we would.

It's not as if there aren't ways we can comfortably do that. For smokers, there are more options than ever -- pills, patches, gum, hypnosis -- something for everyone.

And the truth is, every single one of the ways you can quit smoking works very well.

How do I know?

Because I've tried them all, some of them several times.

They always work. In a short period of time, you get past the pains of withdrawal fairly quickly and before you know it, you're a nonsmoker (halo optional).

Friends and family applaud you, tell you how much better you look (and smell), how much longer you'll live, how much money you'll save -- the usual blah, blah, blah.

You, in turn, are supposed to be happy about this.

But, somehow, you're not.

You say I look better? Did you think I was ugly before?

Smell better? I've not even going to discuss that.

How much longer I'll live? Oh, really -- your mouth to God's ear? Do I have your word of honor on exactly how many more years that will be? I hope it's a lot, so I can annoy you in other ways besides smoking.

How much money I'll save? That's the first positive thing you've said. Well, good. I'm going to use it to buy earmuffs so I can't hear your blathering.

I don't feel better at all. True, I'm not coughing as much as I used to, but I feel like I've lost my best friend.

If you're what Malcolm Gladwell, author of "The Tipping Point," calls a "chipper," you probably do feel better -- certainly better than I do.

Chippers are people for whom the process of quitting smoking is fairly easy. They're not heavy smokers, for one thing, and their attachment to nicotine is more in the nature of a habit than an addiction. Gladwell says most teenagers in the early stages of acquiring the smoking habit fall into the category of "chippers," which gives concerned parents a chance to stop the habit before it goes too far, assuming a way to make teenagers do anything they don't want to do -- especially something their parents want them to do - can ever be found.

A chipper is not a "real" smoker. He or she might turn into one someday, but they're not there yet.

A smoker is a person with a real attachment to the habit, not only because they're addicted to the nicotine but also because there is a deep emotional connection to the act of smoking.

The reasons for that emotional connection are complex, and very real, and they form a large part of the reason smokers continue to smoke.

For those addicted to smoking (and I count myself in that group), Gladwell says there is almost always one person or one event that pushes the chipper into the lifelong habit of smoking -- the type of habit that is very hard to leave behind.

For me, it was a woman friend of my mother's. I'd never met anyone like her. She was in her mid-30's then, from the deep South, with a distinctive drawl that made every joke she told even funnier. She laughed a lot and when she did, it was impossible not to laugh along with her. She was the "cool Mom" -- the one every kid on the block wanted to spend time with.

And she smoked. My mother did, too, but not with the verve and style of Chastine, who could blow smoke rings whenever she wanted to. In the summer months, when it was hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk, we'd go over to her house and watch television -- especially "The Tonight Show," which was always funnier at her house.

When I read Gladwell's discussion of this aspect of how people make the decision to pick up that first cigarette, I immediately thought of Chastine.

I want to be very clear that I don't place any blame on her at all -- as it is with every person who picks up a cigarette and lights it for the first time, it was my own choice.

For those of you who don't smoke -- that was your choice.

Trying to "help" someone quit an unhealthy habit is a lost cause for that reason -- it's their choice to continue.

Nagging, complaining, pointing out obituaries where the cause of death is lung cancer and saying triumphantly, "He was a heavy smoker," and all of the other ways that people try to bend others to THEIR choice are just ways to be even more annoying, and for some, a reason to smoke more, eat more, do more drugs.

When a smoker wants to quit, and really means it, they'll quit. When an overweight person wants to lose weight and really means it, they'll do it. When a drug addict wants to stop, and really means it, they'll do it.

It won't be easy. It's human nature to want something very badly but not want to pay the price of actually getting it.

Like the dieter who wants to be thinner, but wants that to happen without dieting or exercise, the smoker wants to become a non-smoker without giving up smoking and the drug addict wants to get clean without giving up the pills or the needle.

The last thing on earth I would ever want is for someone to sue a cigarette company on my behalf. I chose it, even knowing the dangers. Foolish -- sure - but my own, informed choice. It was no secret when I started and no secret today.

Maybe I'll quit tomorrow, maybe I'll never quit. But that will be, once again, my choice.




Showing most recent comments first
[Show in chronological order instead]

"Why are we still fighting about cigarettes? And in the Supreme Court, yet. The country is in the midst of an economic collapse and we're still embroiled in class action lawsuits about cigarettes."

Just the other day you embraced the right to sue people for the audacity of believeing they have the right to choose whether or not germs and virus be injected into the bloodstream of their children and themselves.. and the toxic chemicals and metals these witches brews are soaking in..

How do you make the distinction of one case against the other, Kathy? Why is one law suit good and the other bad?

-- Posted by Third Child on Sat, Apr 11, 2009, at 10:10 PM

You would never know that Kathy is responsible for 'helping' me through the patch process in 1992! We actually did it together and it took for me. I guess my decision stuck!

Keep up the good work, Kathy. I always enjoy your articles. OBTW, it is cold there! It will be 72 degrees warmer here today - wish you were here!

-- Posted by JanfromIowa on Thu, Jan 15, 2009, at 10:53 AM

kathy, when are we going to see another incendiary blog entry?

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Fri, Jan 9, 2009, at 8:59 AM

I'm from the old school. I feel it's anyone's right to Smoke of not, that's their business. That's part of being free! I'm tired of Governments telling everyone,whats bad or good for them! Live and let live.People are like Sheep anymore they just follow the Herd.Don't they have a mind of their own? That's how we lose our freedom.There are no Individuals anymore, and thats sad!! there's a lot more to worry about, then someones else business!

-- Posted by Jo on Fri, Dec 26, 2008, at 10:52 PM

Kathy and others,

I am not proposing an entire smoke-free community, I am smart enough to know that this will never feasibly happen. I was on the other hand proposing a smoke-free environment in all public places. Glad to see you all were smarter than me in phrasing that, sorry for the lack of clarity in my post.

I for one can eat in a restaurant with a good friend who happens to be a long time smoker and not be offended either way. I prefer to sit in the non-smoking but like you Kathy, I'm not going to faint.

Notably, I'm not applying for sainthood either!

-- Posted by writerintraining on Sun, Dec 21, 2008, at 9:19 PM

NamaDot it is good to see your reappearance. I hope things are going as well as can be expected for you.

Staying with the segue I've got to say that I smoke my cigarettes outside. Then I field strip the butt (sans filter) sprinkle the tobacco, and the tiny rolled up bit of paper on the lawn. The tobacco is a good source of nitrogen, the paper quickly breaks down (minicompost), and I irrationally take pride in myself as a green smoker. The removed filters I stick in my pocket to discard later, and to remind myself upon discard that I smoke too **** much.

As far as lawn fertilizers go other than the tobacco I utilize corn gluten, and occasionally fish emulsion.

My neighbors are not really happy about the fish emulsion, but don't say much, probably because I substituted the emulsion for cow manure. I believe that they prefer the smell of a fish market to that of a feed lot.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Sun, Dec 21, 2008, at 3:07 AM

Typesetter: Found what I was looking for - it's a short story that appeared in The New Yorker called "End of the Tale," in which the the premise is that cigarette smoking is outlawed with the passage of the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, and the country's last five smokers are tracked to a box canyon in the Sierras. It's pretty hilarious.

It was made into a short film of the same name about 10 years ago. I haven't seen it, but if it's even half as funny as the story itself, it ought to be very good.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Fri, Dec 19, 2008, at 4:58 PM

Typesetter: There has been some comment from business owners, in the KC Star, who agree with you that they should be the ones who decide to go smoke-free and that if they have to toe the line, the casinos should, too. Can't say I disagree with that point of view.

On the other hand, I do understand that people who don't smoke don't want to inhale the fumes when they're eating and I respect that. And they don't want to have to cross a restaurant off their list if the owner, given a choice, elects to allow smoking to continue.

The problem with this particular discussion, as with so many on other subjects, is that it has become an issue where no one wants to give ground (almost no one, anyway). The anti-smoking group wants it banned everywhere forever - the pro-smoking group (if there is one) doesn't want that. Lots finger-pointing, lots of yelling and frantic arm-waving.

I highly recommend a very funny short story by Garrison Keillor, in which he imagines a world where smoking has been criminalized and tells the story of the last few smokers left, on the run, in caves, hiding from the police. I can't remember which of his books it's in, but I'll find it and post it here.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Fri, Dec 19, 2008, at 4:48 PM

I agree with your comments NanaDot, especially the part about sainthood. I am certainly not stepping forward.

But as the ag writer, I feel compelled to point out that run-off from perfectly manicured lawns (well fertilized and pest free thanks to chemicals) are now proving to be a bigger source of run-off than agriculture. There is actually more land in lawns now, than in agriculture fields.


-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Fri, Dec 19, 2008, at 4:28 PM

Many of the bar owners in the KC area that are now under a no-smoking ban are up in arms about it. I can understand. I know that when I go to certain establishments, such as bars, I expect that people are going to be smoking. I also don't think it is fair that the no-smoking ban pertains to bars and restaurants, but not to the casinos in the KC area. I think that bar/restaurant owners should be given the choice to be either a smoking business or a non-smoking business. They should have to post it on the door or outside of their establishment. That way if I am a non-smoker and prefer not to go into a smoking establishment I can choose another place to go. Then, smokers can still smoke in some places and non-smokers don't have to patronize the business that allow smoking if they choose not to. I believe there is a restaurant in Springfield that did that. They are called Ziggy's, which is smoke-free, the owners opened another location which serves the same food, etc. and they are calling it Ciggy's, and you can smoke at that location. That way their smoking and non-smoking customers can still enjoy the same food, but don't have to share each others air.

-- Posted by Typesetter on Fri, Dec 19, 2008, at 2:33 PM

wrtierintraining - Well, hmmm...I don't know if a truly "smoke-free community" is even possible. I can tell you for certain that whether a restaurant is or is not smoke-free makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever. If I want to go there, I'll go there and if I can't smoke, that doesn't bother me in the slightest. If I go out with people who do not smoke, I can sit in the non-smoking section without breaking into a sweat or foaming at the mouth.

As I mention in my comments, trying to help someone who may not want to BE helped is not necessarily a good thing. People MUST quit on their own because THEY want to - not because someone else wants it or insists on it or tries to legislate it.

The trend is away from smoking - I think that's pretty clear.

I can't say I would support any effort to make Marshall a smoke-free community, but I certainly wouldn't fight it - it's like fighting the tides or the sunrise...can't be done effectively.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Fri, Dec 19, 2008, at 12:18 PM


Would you be in favor of making Marshall a smoke-free community? This has become popular in larger metro areas and I know that a few fast food restaurants have gone smoke-free locally. Not ever having been a smoker I'm not sure about this idea but I thought maybe it would have some impact on smokers and promoting their kicking the habit? Just curious.

-- Posted by writerintraining on Fri, Dec 19, 2008, at 11:37 AM

Typesetter - Thanks for your response. I'm pleased for you that you were successful in your efforts. I haven't given up on quitting myself, but knowing what a difficult task it is, it's hard to take it on yet again. Stories like the one that inspired this blog entry really annoy me (LOL - obviously, huh?).

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Thu, Dec 18, 2008, at 12:48 PM


I started smoking when I was about 13. All my friends were doing it and far be it for me to be different. I smoked until I was 18 and quit, even though I lived with 2 smokers at the time, I chose to quit. A couple of years later when I met the man that would be my first husband I started smoking again. He smoked and it was easy for me to pick the habit up again. I smoked all the way through that marriage and continued to smoke after my divorce. When I met my current husband he didn't smoke and didn't like my smoking. He made it clear that he didn't like me to smoke, but he never nagged me to quit. When we decided to get married I decided my gift to him (and myself) would be to quit smoking. I knew it was time. It was my decision. I was by then in my early 30s. Quitting was difficult after all those years of smoking but I was determined. When I could go to my best friend's house and sit across the kitchen table talking and laughing, and for years both of us smoking, when I didn't feel the need to have a cigarette, even thought she still smoked, I knew I had really quit. I haven't had a cigarette in over 10 years. Even my best friends have all quit. I'm not thrilled that my teenager has started smoking, but I set the example, so I have a hard time shaking my finger in disapproval. I'm hoping someday he'll choose to quit too. I understand quitting is not easy and if you are pressured by someone else to quit, you'll only pick it back up again. The only way to quit is to make up your own mind that is what you want to do and commit to it. I understand being a smoker and not being a smoker. I understand you enjoying it and not wanting to quit but, for myself, I'm glad I finally quit for good!

-- Posted by Typesetter on Thu, Dec 18, 2008, at 11:44 AM

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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.
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