Make It Better Because You Deserve Better: Why I Never Smoked

Photo Credit:orethawinstonhunter

My mother died on a warm summer day in August.  I can  remember it vividly. It’s not something you forget. She had a long battle with COPD. I personally have it out for this disease. If it were a person I would stalk it.

So, having started this blog I personally declare the first 8 Days of August ‘Make It Better Because You Deserve Better Week.’ In other words, all bets are off and I am going to visit all the things that will make you better, or should make you better. I will be candid and sharp.

Today, I want you to know why I never smoked.

I think the best place to  start is by telling you why I hate cigarettes and vowed never to date a smoker again in my life. I dated one once. It was college. As a young child growing up in the 1970’s I don’t think anyone really thought about the repercussions of smoking. Look at all the old movies. I love old movies. They all smoked in those movies. Most every Saturday evening, you can find me curled up watching an old movie. In those movies, everyone poured themselves a drink  and a smoke.

Take a look:

It was a culture thing back then. Smoking had its own presence and being.

There were tools to the trades for ladies. Ladies had cigarette holders, cases and lighters. If you were at the top of your game, you had engraved silver lighters and cases.  It was one of the many things  a woman carried in her purse with her compact and lipstick.

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My mother came along  during that time. She picked her first cigarette very young. I don’t think she was 12 yet. She smoked Salem 100’s. I could always remember those pretty crystal ash trays. They were heavy and clear. Often on Saturday morning one of my assigned chores was to clean the living room. This meant polish the furniture with Lemon Pledge, sweep the floor and clean the ashtrays. We had  these heavy pretty crystal ones. I washed them sparking clean. It just was what it was.

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I knew then, I didn’t like the smell of it, but you go nose blind when you live with smokers. Everyone smoked back then in the 1970’s. It was only as  I grew up, did I notice something wrong and the world began to change. When we were younger, our parents could send us to the store for a pack of cigarettes for them. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about it.  Sometimes, a parent would stand on the stoop steps and you would invite the store clerk to go out and wave to your parent waiting for your return with the pack. I don’t think I thought anything about it.  I thought it was normal. All my friend’s parents smoked.

They would have a cup of coffee on Saturday morning and a smoke. They would read the paper and light one up at the table. My mother would do her crossword puzzle sip her coffee and smoke her cigarette. I never heard her cough.

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You could walk into a friend’s house and see the same ritual.  It was normal.

When I attended high school, it was then that cigarettes took on a different meaning. My friends smoked. Most of them even smoked with permission from their parents. They would ask to “bum” one off someone all the time. In the morning, you would see them walk into the local corner store and buy a “loosie” for  a nickel or a dimeWe never thought or talked about it. Sure, there were the surgeon general warnings, but who paid any of that any attention.

When I was in college everyone smoked. I still did not. You see, somewhere inside of me there was a feeling that it was a bad habit. I would see friends who would be cranky without that puff.  It appeared to be one habit that I did not want any parts of.  When I went  off to work, I would see people huddled in the cold smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee. I would see people struggling to get a light turning their back to the wind so that the little white cylinder could ignite.

In my eyes, it looked like a ball and chain. It was starting to rob me of the people that I loved. I would see people scrimp together money to pay.

As I got older, I noticed that the woman who would dance with me.. no longer  had the breath. The voice that would sing so proudly and loudly was starting to cut off because her wind was running out. Still she never coughed and never had a smoker’s cough. I recall my pleading to make her put them down. I would beg her to please stop.  See, I had gotten some knowledge and I was starting to be afraid.

I learned:

Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.Smoking is directly responsible for approximately 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80-90 percent of COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) deaths.

She would tell me I was annoying and shush me away. That went on all the time until one day she had what we thought was an asthmatic attack. When we rushed to the hospital, we got a diagnosis that knocked me on my bottom. She had one of the things I feared. She had COPD and was already in stage 2. When she came home from this first hospital stay, I was stunned. She was stunned. So stunned she quit. She had one pack left in her  end table drawer. She looked at them and closed the drawer.

It was too little too late. We battled the disease for a number  of years until it finally took her life. She lost the ability to cook for herself, travel by herself  to walk distances, to sing and heartbreakingly to dance. My mother’s final dance, was at my brother’s wedding. She took all her strength to dance those few steps. She had come out the hospital that morning knowing that death was soon to come.  She died a few short months later, with a tracheotomy , while gasping for breath.  I vowed that I would fight this stupid disease. Part of which was by making sure everyone I knew knew these facts:

The list of diseases caused by smoking includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema), coronary heart disease, stroke, abdominal aortic aneurysm, acute myeloid leukemia, cataract, pneumonia, periodontitis, and bladder, esophageal, laryngeal, lung, oral, throat, cervical, kidney, stomach, and pancreatic cancers. Smoking is also a major factor in a variety of other conditions and disorders, including slowed healing of wounds, infertility, and peptic ulcer disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that  black males between 18 and 24 years old are the demographic group most prone to smoking in the state. 

It’s for all these reasons I never smoked and never will. When she died I cleared out that end table and found those cigarettes. I tossed them out  while blinded with tears. I promised that I would tell everyone who lit one up to stop.

Stop smoking because your loved ones don’t deserve a long goodbye.