Smoking isn#039;t that glamorous

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2003

I sure am glad I am not a smoker. When I see people outside their work

places puffing in the cold weather, they look miserable. Their shoulders are hunched; their hands look raw, getting their nicotine fix. The smokers must

be getting some pleasure from smoking, but it doesn't look like fun to me. I heard a comment once that smokers are the best people to hang out with, as they are so much fun compared to non-smokers. I don’t know if that is true or not, but smokers do have a deep bond that is very habit forming.

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I hung out with smokers when I went to Albert Lea High School. Students were not allowed to smoke on school property, but they could step off the curb and smoke in the street. Many of the students smoked across the street from the school on public property. I would stand talking to my friends as they puffed away. On cold mornings when one could see their breath, I would hold my pointer finger and middle finger to my lips to pretend I was smoking. When I blew my warm breath out, it looked like smoke in the cold air. I would pretend to throw my cigarette butt down and squish the imaginary butt out with my toe. Teachers and fellow students thought I was a smoker, as I hung out with the smokers. When they asked me how long I had smoked I would tell them, "I don't smoke. I have tried it but I don't like it."

"But I saw you smoking," fellow classmates would say. "I saw smoke coming out of your mouth."

I would smile and shrug my shoulders and say, "You think you saw me smoking, but you didn't."

They would look at me suspiciously and say conspiratorially, "I've smoked before too, don't tell anyone."

I never wanted to be a smoker. I worked at a macrobiotic restaurant in the 70s and the waitresses, cooks, and matre'd smoked more at this place than at any other place I have ever worked at. The owner, Michio Kushi, a wealthy Japanese businessman, would often come to the restaurant after lecturing about the benefits of eating grains, steamed vegetables and miso soup. He would sit at a table sipping bancha tea and slowly smoke Camel straights. He said," Smoking is good for you, it strengthens your lungs."

Many of the people that worked at the restaurant were strict macrobiotics and they wouldn't eat dairy products, sugar, raw fruit or meat. They smoked the strongest non-filtered cigarettes and puffed away while drinking bancha tea or Kirin, a Japanese beer. Smoke would get in my eyes and they would water up and turn red. My nose would get all stuffed up, then start to run and I would sneeze. One smoker said to me, "It is good for you to be around the smoke. It loosens up all your excess mucus."

I didn't agree with the smoking macrobiotic people.

"Don't you read the label on each pack of cigarettes that says the Surgeon General finds that smoking can endanger your health?" I asked them one day when the smoke was particularly thick.

One of them handed me a book by William Dufty called Sugar Blues and said this book had the answers to smoking. Dufty was macrobiotic and married to the silent film star Gloria Swanson who also starred in the movie Sunset Boulevard. Dufty said it was good to smoke, but that manufactured cigarettes were filled with several types of sugar. The paper that cigarettes were wrapped in had chemicals to make the cigarette burn slower and other ingredients were in cigarettes to make them more addictive. Dufty suggested that smokers buy a simple blend of tobacco and roll their own cigarettes. My brother Steve rolls his own cigarettes and he doesn't smoke as much as someone who buys cigarettes already packaged. He says they are stronger and not as tasty as packaged brands. The macrobiotic people I knew all smoked the very addicting type of cigarettes that Dufty said to avoid. I think they read only the part of the book that said smoking was good for you and not the rest of the book.

I do know there will always be smokers and I just try to stay out of the way of secondhand smoke. It is easier to do this now with no smoking allowed in many restaurants and public buildings. I'm glad of that.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2232 or by e-mail at