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Volume 15, Number 16
September 29, 2009

opinion

Also in this section:
Editorials: Bosco the Clown; and Getting out of Afghanistan
Edmonston, Guillermo Endara
Sirias, Outsiders among the Wounaan
Jackson, US bases --- again?
Gandásegui, The end of neoliberalism and the economic crisis
Committee to Protect Journalists, Pro-Zelaya broadcasters shut down
Amnesty International, Several deaths in Honduran political violence
Human Rights Watch, OAS should press for end of Honduran rights abuses
Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Was Honduras at the PANAMAX 2009 war games?
Reporters Without Borders, Cuban editor released after two weeks in custody
CARICOM, The loss of three major Caribbean literary figures
Sanchez, US military presence in the Greater Caribbean Basin
Castaneda, US military presence in Colombia
Weisbrot, What reforms will the United States have as a result of this recession?
Sanders, The public option for US health care
Lerner, Building on the hopeful aspects of Obama's health care speech
Gutman, That devil tobacco
Avnery, The Goldstone Report
Nasser, Obama stuck between wars
Thurston, Escaping from freedom
Bernal, The tall tales of lowlifes in high places
Letters to the editor

That Devil Tobacco: smokers should fume with anger

by W. E. Gutman

I was 12 when I smoked my first cigarette. I had filched it from my mother’s pack of aromatic Turkish imports and puffed in front of a mirror, to see how it made me look. Held between middle and forefinger, the yellow-paper, gold-tipped cigarette, I thought, lent me an air of rakish refinement. The girls will be impressed, I was crowing, exalting my likeness and savoring my imminent elevation to Alpha male status. I had done many foolhardy things to attract attention from the opposite sex --- in which I showed precocious interest. Like a superhero, I had jumped from one roof to another in a single bound; climbed trees and “parachuted” to earth with an old umbrella; caught snakes and scorpions with my bare fingers; ridden my bicycle hands-freee --- downhill; and brought one of my father’s speculums to school for show-and-tell. Predictably, many pranks sent me to the infirmary; the speculum (a gynecological instrument my father used in his medical practice) got me suspended.

That first cigarette made me violently ill. I felt dizzy, then nauseous. I threw up and collapsed on the bathroom floor in a cold sweat as the world began to spin around me. “What have I done,” I muttered.

A week later, I pilfered another cigarette, lit it in the presence of my putative harem, but wisely refrained from inhaling. This buffoonery lasted several years. Then, one day, having consumed a whole pack and scurried to my local drugstore to buy a fresh carton, I realized I was hopelessly hooked. I was 20.

Thirty years (and 500,000 cigarettes) later, coughing and wheezing, unable to climb a flight of stairs without panting, diagnosed with heart disease and other smoking-related disorders, I decided to quit. Cold turkey. No patches. No pills. No hypnosis. No counseling. Only sheer will, I felt, could help expiate 30 years of weakness and abject self-abuse. Yes, for 30 years I had gone to bed with a cigarette in my mouth and my first daily cup of coffee had been consumed to the accompaniment of half-a-dozen cigarettes. A simple, heartfeld plea from my wife and a dramatic revelation --- in addition to my cardiologist’s admonitions – helped reinforce my resolve.

My wife, a non-smoker, had said to me, “Sweetheart, if smoking did nothing worse than stink up your breath, your hair, your clothes and the whole house, if all I had to endure were kisses that taste like the bottom of an ashtray, I would say nothing. But we know that smoking is not only dangerous to your health, it is bad for mine as well. If you love me and value your life, you’ll quit.”

I smoked my last cigarette on December 31, 1985. For two weeks I climbed the walls, craving for a smoke, especially after a good meal or a steaming cup of coffee. The diabolical symptoms of addiction lingered for a year but I stood firm, my wife’s arguments aptly buttressed by the sight of a smoker’s calcinated lungs, which my father arranged for me to admire in the pathology department of a major New York hospital.

For a year, I placed in a jar the sum of money I would have spent daily on cigarettes. A year later, and many happy dollars rescued from incineration, I saved enough to take my wife on a glorious two-week vacation.

I am now violently allergic to smoke. Smokers are not welcome in my home unless they abstain. I consciously avoid any venue that might expose me to someone’s foul exhalations.

Now comes word that the nicotine levels that smokers typically absorb per cigarette rose dramatically in the past 10 years, perpetuating what a Harvard University study funded by the National Cancer Institute describes as a "tobacco pandemic" that makes it even harder for smokers to quit.

"Cigarettes are finely tuned drug delivery devices designed to perpetuate a tobacco pandemic," said Howard Koh, the school's associate dean for public health practice, and former Massachusetts commissioner of public health.

To boost amounts of nicotine inhaled by smokers, cigarette makers fortified the concentration of nicotine in their tobacco and modified cigarette designs to increase the number of puffs per cigarette, the Harvard researchers added.

The end result is a product that is more addictive than ever, the study concluded.

"Our findings call into serious question whether the tobacco industry has changed at all in its pursuit of addicting smokers,” said Gregory Connolly, director of the Harvard School of Public Health's Tobacco Control Research Program.

Connolly said tobacco companies failed to warn consumers about rising levels of nicotine since the 1998 settlement in which states are mandated to step up scrutiny of the industry.

Tobacco industry officials, with their Orwellian propensity for silence, have yet to comment.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers cigarette smoking the leading preventable cause of death in the US smokers: Next time you light up, look at yourself in the mirror and ponder this. You are consuming a product manufactured by a gang of criminals dedicated to killing you --- at your own expense. If this ghoulish revelation is not enough to make you mad and encourage you to quit forthwith, you risk joining the 450,000 people who die each year from lung cancer and other diseases related to tobacco use.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Also in this section:
Editorials: Bosco the Clown; and Getting out of Afghanistan
Edmonston, Guillermo Endara
Sirias, Outsiders among the Wounaan
Jackson, US bases --- again?
Gandásegui, The end of neoliberalism and the economic crisis
Committee to Protect Journalists, Pro-Zelaya broadcasters shut down
Amnesty International, Several deaths in Honduran political violence
Human Rights Watch, OAS should press for end of Honduran rights abuses
Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Was Honduras at the PANAMAX 2009 war games?
Reporters Without Borders, Cuban editor released after two weeks in custody
CARICOM, The loss of three major Caribbean literary figures
Sanchez, US military presence in the Greater Caribbean Basin
Castaneda, US military presence in Colombia
Weisbrot, What reforms will the United States have as a result of this recession?
Sanders, The public option for US health care
Lerner, Building on the hopeful aspects of Obama's health care speech
Gutman, That devil tobacco
Avnery, The Goldstone Report
Nasser, Obama stuck between wars
Thurston, Escaping from freedom
Bernal, The tall tales of lowlifes in high places
Letters to the editor

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