Dick Tracy: Thank you for not smoking | TheUnion.com

Dick Tracy: Thank you for not smoking

Dick Tracy

When my wife Felicia and I attended the Kentucky Derby in 2006, we were fortunate to have found a bed and breakfast on a historic tobacco plantation.

Our hostess was an elegant woman in her early 80s who interrupted our conversation with, “Do you mind if I smoke?” We had no objection.

“I’ve just begun smoking,” she smiled. “My family’s been growing tobacco for generations, and I decided to see what the attraction is.”

And she rolled her own!

Remember when airlines allowed smoking by passengers in the back rows … as if there were an invisible wall to keep smoke from traveling forward?

Nonetheless, I’m very pleased, at the change in public attitude about smoking in recent decades.

When I joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee in 1969, the newsroom was alive with the sound of clattering typewriters, ringing telephones, loud voices and shoulder-high clouds of smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Open windows provided some ventilation, but my wife noted that the mandatory white dress shirts I wore always smelled of tobacco in the laundry.

She, who picked up smoking in college to “be cool”, was sensitive to it because she hadn’t smoked since the day she lit up while driving the kids to pre-school and our oldest son complained, “You’re killing our air!”

In retrospect, I wish I’d likewise complained to my parents as they flicked the ashes from their cigarettes out of the windows and they blew back in my face. But cigarettes were always dad’s birthday presents from us kids.

I smoked for a brief time in the Army, largely because if you were on break and holding a cigarette sergeants were less likely to appoint you some menial task. Stationed in Germany in 1960, I surrendered my four-carton-per-month allotment ($2.05 a carton) to the owner of my favorite gasthaus in return for beer and schnitzel when my funds ran low at the end of the month. It was a good trade for both of us. Germans did not appreciate their own brands.

But smoking was rampant throughout Europe. In the early ’90s we were surprised that British “lifts” (elevators) were all equipped with upright ashtrays.

Remember when airlines allowed smoking by passengers in the back rows of aircraft, as if there were an invisible wall to keep smoke from traveling forward? Remember the old movies in which stars like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were wreathed in cigarette smoke?

If you wanted to be really “sophisticated” you smoked.

I lost at least one friend to tobacco. Even at the fraternity house in college we chided him about the danger of the dark (Mexican?) cigarettes he favored.

His lungs finally gave out when he was in his early 60s.

But nowadays, if you visit a modern air-conditioned newsroom such as the one at The Union, nobody smokes.

Sadly, though, the youngsters who are fully aware of the damage smoking tobacco are attracted to e-cigarettes like Juul (resembling a memory stick for computers) and “vaping” with artificial cigarettes. Enhancing their appeal to young people, they come in thousands of flavors, including gummy bears and cotton candy.

The California Department of Public Health explores — and deplores — vaping on its StillBlowingSmoke.org website.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of the candy cigarettes we kids once bought at the store back in the ’50s.

But instead of sugar, they offer addictive nicotine.

“Tastes like berries, acts like addiction” is the official warning.

It’s time for more education.

Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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