Smoking’s grip can be fierce

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Smoking will kill you.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Smoking will kill you.

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Yes, I’m taking a stand on smoking and I will tell you why. But, first I will tell you that I was a smoker – a pack a day at the most and more of course when I had a drink.

Both of my parents smoked. Mom smoked Raleighs and Pall Malls. Dad smoked Camels. I remember, as a child, liking the smell of a cigarette when it was first lit.

The one realization of the smell came to me when I was teaching church classes and one of my students smelled smoky. I saw her mother drop her off at classes and she was smoking.

My kids smelled like that when I smoked.

My mother smoked heavily and spent most weekends at my house. The Friday I quit, I asked her not to come that weekend. It would be too hard to be around another smoker. Three or four times over the previous 15 years I had tried to quit and was unsuccessful. This time proved to be a success, but like any other addiction, backsliding is an ever-present threat.

Mom and dad smoked back when the Army issued cigarette rations to the soldiers. Their smokes were compliments of Uncle Sam.

Most of my brothers and sisters and mom’s friends could tell mom’s lungs were not in good shape. She would cough until she couldn’t breathe. We all suspected emphysema.

In 1987, I went with her to the doctor because of her recurrent bronchitis. She was scared and finally admitting that her smoking was a problem.

The doctor only confirmed what we all knew to be true. She had emphysema. He gave her the prognosis. She had two years to live if she continued smoking. She would have more frequent bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia and would have to be hooked up to an oxygen tank to support her breathing.

However, he told her, if she quit smoking, her health would decline, though not as rapidly and she may have as many as 10 good years. She was 62.

The ride home was a somber one. I drove. Mom was quiet. A few blocks from home she said, "Gussie, I’m so sorry I’ve done this to you kids."

She was looking at the big picture – her mortality, all of her children smoked except me – the years of disability that faced her – oxygen, nursing care. Tears rolled down her cheeks. It was hard to watch the woman cry, the strong, independent woman who singled-handedly held her family of seven together after our father disappeared. I stopped the car right there and I cried, too.

She quit smoking for a week. My brother came to visit her a week later. She resumed smoking.

Even with a death sentence, this highly addictive drug holds its prey fiercely and firmly.

In 1990, mom died. She was 65. She had a major stroke.

I tried over the next few months to piece together the reason for the stroke.

Her doctor said. "It’s simple. She died from smoking. It caused her stroke."

For those of you who have a friend or family member who is trying to quit, be supportive. Don’t cajole. Don’t criticize. Don’t be negative and wonder why that person can continue to smoke with all the evidence that links smoking to death and disease. It is a powerfully addictive, and sneaky drug.

Do wonder though, why the FDA outlaws things like saccharine, thalidomide and red dye – things that have been proven dangerous to your health and not tobacco.

Do tobacco lobbyists sleep at night?

Ailene Dawson’s column appears on Wednesdays