A civic club program presented by the American Cancer Society last week brought back memories of smoking — from a standpoint of both etiquette and health — memories that date back couple of generations.

One of the primary goals of the ACS is to reduce use of tobacco products.During my childhood, both my parents were heavy smokers, as were many — perhaps most — adults. Even if nobody in your home smoked, it was considered a social obligation to provide ashtrays for guests who did.

Smokers often asked non-smokers, “Do you mind if I smoke?” In those days, smoking was so widely accepted that non-smokers rarely objected.

In my pre-teen years, it was no big deal for Dad to send me across the street to the A&P Store to buy him a pack of Lucky Strikes; the price, in the 1940s and 1950s, was either 25 cents or 50 cents a pack. To put things in perspective, gasoline sold for around 35 cents a gallon.

As public health advocates began seeking proof that smoking was harmful to health, the tobacco industry insisted that evidence of health problems was unproven. And the industry introduced filter-tipped cigarettes, perhaps to filter out the harmful ingredients they said their product didn’t contain.

When the Surgeon General came out with a landmark report in 1964 declaring that the link between cigarettes and cancer was no longer an unproven theory, my parents quit cold turkey.

It was several decades before growing pressure from non-smokers, health advocates, and government agencies slowly pushed smoking in the workplace into designated “break areas,” then outdoors, and in recent years, off of the premises, indoor and out, of public and private office buildings.

Smoking cessation products and programs rank alongside diet plans as widely embraced — if only partially successful — initiatives to improve health.

Tobacco companies have been forced to label their own products, both in advertising and in product packaging, as having been proven to be harmful to health.

The fault lies with manufacturers and promoters of tobacco products, not with people who use them.

Which brings up an oft-repeated observation: Tobacco is the only product that remains legal in the marketplace despite having been proven to cause illness and death when used as directed.

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. His objection to smoking is based on the proven health problems. His parents both quit early enough in adulthood to escape lasting impact on their health; his grandfather, a lifetime smoker of cigars, died a slow and painful death from throat cancer.)


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