By Bob Groeneveld
I was barely a teenager when I smoked my first cigarette… tobacco, that is.
Before that, my friends and I had tried smoking the dried florets of a plant that we called by a now definitively unpolitically correct name that I shall not repeat here.
The plant was a large woody shrub that grew along the roadside and had, to my knowledge, absolutely no medicinal or other value. We only smoked it – rolled in paper culled from chicken feed sacks (don’t ask!) – because it smouldered like real tobacco when you sucked air through it.
It tasted like campfire smoke, and the only reason I’m pretty sure that it did us no serious harm is because I’m still alive today.
Kids do stupid things.
That’s why, as soon as I could get hold of a real cigarette, I smoked it, just like nearly all of my big brothers did.
My dad had already quit smoking for several years by that time. And it was the same reason that gave him the strength to kick his decades-long habit that eventually gave me the strength to stand firm against my addiction of, by then, a decade and a half.
One day when we were walking the fenceline of the farm together, I pulled out one of my smokes and lit up, as I normally did. This time, without any air of judgment or recrimination, he simply told me why he had finally quit.
Before I started smoking, I hadn’t seen pictures of blackened, shrivelled lungs that had been preserved in large jars after being removed from dead smokers. I was already addicted by the time I saw them, usually shown side-by-side with photos of healthy pink lungs of non-smokers… who were also dead, I would wryly remark to myself.
It wasn’t till after I was addicted that I heard and read stories of the horrible ways that smokers tend to die, slowly choking on emphysema, wasting away with lung cancer – or the host of other cancers now linked to tobacco smoking.
None of that deterred me. That’s how addiction works.
It was my life, ergo, my decision.
Dad cut through all that crap. Yes, it was my decision – but it was not just my life.
He had quit because he realized that the people around him would suffer along with him through an agonizing death.
“All of you would be in pain because of me,” he said. “And more, because you will keep hurting after I’m dead.”
It wasn’t long after that that I made my first serious attempt to stop smoking. It would take several tries over the next two years before I finally succeeded.
All kids go through their own version of stupid before they grow up.
Now we’re all beginning to see and hear the devastating consequences of vaping.
But the kids won’t stop because of that… not until they realize that the pain will continue after they can’t feel it anymore.