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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.
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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.