Monday, May 05, 2008
A Life Gone Up in Smoke
Nicotine, especially when taken in the form of cigarettes, is one of the most viciously addictive drugs the human race has ever had the misfortune to discover. I find nothing to compare with it in the world of drugs excepting only crack cocaine, in terms of its ability to addict people thoroughly, quickly, and in many cases, hopelessly.
Millions of adolescents were deliberately innoculated with this addiction "back in the day" (as my students were wont to say), through the medium of television commercials, magazine ads, billboards, etc., which glamorized and romanticized the addiction. This is one of the truly horrifying chapters of predatory capitalism. How many have died slow and painful deaths because of these ad campaigns?
When I was a kid all the adults on both sides of my family smoked, except my grandmothers. I remember advertising slogans for cigarettes that no longer exist! Anybody remember Kentucky Kings, with the all-tobacco filter for that all-tobacco taste?
Then there were Kents, with the Micronite filter, "What's Viceroy got that other filter-tip cigarettes haven't got?" and Winston, which tasted "good like (sic) a cigarette should." Most of all, there was the Marlboro Man, who came riding in across Marlboro Country with his biceps rippling, the better to show off his tattoo. That's what made me decide to start smoking and get a manly habit of my own, at age 14.
And I smoked for 50 years, the last ten years not because I wanted to, but because I was certain I couldn't quit, so I ended up with emphysema. But this is not a sad story, because it has a happy ending. I quit seven months ago, and though I still struggle with the addiction daily, I'm certain I'm done with it, and I'm learning how to breathe again. Last time I was in San Francisco I walked up the steepest hills there without having to stop for breath.
So maybe the shooter in this story was just a flipped-out drug addict rather than a homicidal sociopath, 'cause hard-core smokers are no different from crackheads, and will turn into killers if we deny them their drug.
By the way, there's a great chronicle of the life of a smoker in this week's New Yorker.