Hump Day: Addiction to cigarettes is no laughing matter

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

It’s been two months since my father’s been in the hospital and he likely won’t be getting out soon.

I often wonder if people who are very ill realize how bad it is? He shows inklings from time to time that he does, but at other times seems either confused or in denial about what’s going on. I know it can’t be easy. In fact, it must be awful.

If I were to die tomorrow (knock on wood!), I’m not sure if I’d want to know beforehand. It wouldn’t exactly make the last 24 hours of my life very relaxing. I still have a stack of unread books to get through. I don’t plan on going anywhere celestial until that huge amount of reading is done. Good thing I’m a slow reader!

When I visit my father in the hospital, I often see elderly patients who are completely oblivious to their surroundings. One elderly man – seemingly in good shape physically – roamed into my father’s hospital room the other day before being whisked away by nurses back to his real room. Clearly, he was at a loss to where he was and perhaps even to who he was.

I’m not sure which is better. Lose your body and keep your mind or lose your mind and keep your body? I visit my father often and can’t get over the number of patients who drag themselves outside to smoke even with their IVs in tow. If my father could manage it, he’d be right there with them, though. He hasn’t smoked since being admitted to the hospital on June 2, although we suspect he smoked in the bathroom once, something that was fixed when his cigarettes were taken away and locked up.

Outside the hospital smoking, I’ve seen new mothers with their babies; people who look like they’re barely alive and won’t make it back to their room; young; old; pregnant, you name it. The urge to smoke is incredibly strong. I’m glad it’s a habit I never developed even though both my parents were heavy smok­ers when I was a kid.

My mother quit smoking years ago, but my father never did. Yup, I’m of that generation that spent a lot of the time in cars with smoking parents and the windows rolled up tight. Visits from relatives were spent breathing in second-hand smoke galore! And it wasn’t a family Christmas Eve if I didn’t go to bed waiting for Santa with my eyes burning from all the smoke relatives created with their cigarettes while visiting.

My father doesn’t ask to smoke much anymore. He will once in awhile, but for the most part, he no longer does. This is remarkable for a man who smoked heavily for 72 years since he was about seven years old in Moncton’s notoriously tough East End of yore. Back then, he and his friends probably smoked discarded butts dropped on the street. They certainly didn’t have money to buy cigarettes, that’s for sure.

It wasn’t that long ago that there were ads for cigarettes all over the place, including on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, not to mention on radio and on television, as well. If you search the online video service YouTube, you’ ll find vintage cigarette television com­mercials that are unthinkable today. There’s a 1949 commercial that promotes that fact that doctors in all areas of medicine prefer Camel cigarettes over the competition, with bold text flashed on the screen that screams, ‘More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.’ It also shows a doctor proudly smoking in his office.

Lest you think that is silly and never happened, my mother told me that her obstetrician would offer her a cigarette during her visits to him when she was pregnant with me. Yup, they’d both be enjoying a cancer stick in his office while discussing how her pregnancy was coming along. Apparently, Baby Brian’s in-uterine coughing was not loud enough to be heard outside of my mother’s tummy.

An old Lucky Strike commercial that ran at Christmastime in the 1960s shows a female spokesperson urging viewers to buy a holidaythemed carton of 200 cigarettes for their smoking loved ones. “Here’s a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone who smokes because it says ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Smoking 200 Times!'” She goes on to say that they’re “all done up for Christmas in a beautiful carton.”

Even cartoon characters pro­moted smoking. There are a couple of infamous Winston cigarettes commercial from the early 1960s featuring The Flintstones that you can easily find on YouTube. One shows Fred entering a convenience store to buy a pack, while another shows Fred and Barney hanging out in the back yard smoking and extolling the virtues of Winston smokes.

Even beloved television comedy icon Lucille Ball and her musician husband Desi Arnaz got into the act in the 1950s by peddling Philip Morris cigarettes. It definitely was another era and makes a person wince to even watch these commercials today, knowing what we know now.

Addiction to cigarettes is no laughing matter. While many have beaten it, many have not. My father never did, and he’s now paying the ultimate price with his health. An unapologetic smoker, this is the longest he’s gone without smoking in more than 70 years and it doesn’t appear he’ll be getting the chance to go back to it any time soon.

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