Smoking

These days, I rarely see people smoking. Pipes, cigars, and certainly cigarettes are no longer in fashion. What a blessing.

When I was growing up in the San Francisco bay area, literally every adult I knew smoked. Cigarettes were universal, pipes and cigars somewhat rare. When I turned eighteen, my parents gave me as birthday presents a carton of cigarettes and a lighter. No one seemed to have the slightest hint that smoking was bad for one’s health.

At the University of California, Berkeley, where I did my undergraduate studies, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t smoke. We even smoked in the classrooms while class was in progress. I worked part-time throughout those years, and everywhere I worked, including restaurants and coffee shops, everybody, hired help and customers both, smoked.

I enlisted in the army immediately upon graduation from college and learned that all soldiers smoked. Typical was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who left the army (and became president) seven years before I enlisted. He reportedly smoked six packs of cigarettes per day. Every formation break was announced with the words, “Smoke ’em If you got ’em.”

Upon leaving the army and going to work for the National Security Agency (NSA), I was again among smokers. NSA immediately sent me to Vietnam where I spent most of the next thirteen years, escaping under fire when Saigon fell. Once again, every soldier and Marine I worked with smoked, and smoking among the Vietnamese was universal for men.

By the time Vietnam fell in 1975, people were finally starting to pay attention to the doctors who had for decades been warning us that smoking caused lung cancer. Chastened, I began the long, slow process of weaning myself away from tobacco. Little by little, I replaced cigarettes with nicotine chewing gum which, at the time, was only available with a prescription. Only years later could the gum could be bought without a prescription.

More next time.

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