We Can Leave Tobacco Behind

It was the summer of 1957, and the way my parents met was like something out of an Elvis movie: a waterskiing blind date. My mother, Annette, a skinny 17-year-old, hit the water so hard at Denver’s Cherry Creek Reservoir that it pulled off her bikini top. Mortified, she hid behind her best friend Dee, who struggled to cover Mom while my 20-year-old eventual dad, Sherman, reclaimed her top.

Could you blame him for asking her out on a second date? And another after that?

To be that young in 1957 was to be hale, hearty, and invincible. They went to sock hops and double features. They went spelunking in the Rockies and took entry-level jobs with odd hours. Soon they eloped and started a family. My two sisters and brother came just a year and a half apart from one another. It was a typical home full of chaos and kids – and cigarettes.

Everybody smoked back then, and my parents were no different. It was cheap, cool, and everywhere. President Eisenhower lit up in the White House. Every good and bad guy smoked on screen. Cigarette vending machines were in all the restaurants. A few studies began to show a link between smoking and lung cancer by the 1950s, but such studies were still new and little-known.

Dad eventually gave up cigarettes, but still puffed a pipe and cigars, and he kept a can of chew in his pocket. Mom only gave it up when she reached her 60s. By the time she stopped, it was too late. She had emphysema and needed oxygen support. When she turned 71, she was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and was gone a year later.

Cigarette smoke was my constant companion growing up, but it was never my friend. I saw the failed attempts to quit, the premature aging, the coughing, the colds and flus, and the expense. I supported my mom as these smoking-related diseases claimed her body. I lived through her self-blame and depression. It wasn’t peaceful or easy.

Of course, 2016 isn’t 1957, and opinions about tobacco are different. It’s uplifting to know that tobacco use is generally down in this country, but that’s not good enough. It’s still the leading cause of preventable illness.

So when I have the chance to help other people stop using tobacco, I don’t just jump at it, I hurl myself at it. Our new course, Supporting Tobacco Cessation, is a source of passion because organizations like yours can use it as a tool to reduce tobacco use in families like mine.

My hope is that one day soon, tobacco will be among those relics of history that we’ve left behind along with lead makeup and bloodletting. Quitting tobacco is tough; my mother couldn’t do it for most of her life. But it is possible if we work together: program directors like you, educators like me, and determined individuals like my mom. I’m confident that we can and will.

Support to Quit Tobacco

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