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My memory is blowing smoke
by Nathan Orme
Jun 05, 2011 | 532 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To quit smoking is a difficult task for both people and governments.

I encourage everyone everywhere to kick the habit. It is unhealthy, it is expensive, it stinks and it is inconsiderate. In general, the world would be better off without smoking.

Then why do I think Nevada should smoke? Why do I support allowing smoking in bars, and perhaps even restaurants?

Let’s dig into my psyche for a minute: My earliest memory of smoking is my paternal grandmother and grandfather. My grandmother smoked her whole life, even to the point where she had to breathe with an oxygen tank in the last years of her life. When I was very young, she lived in a big house on top of a hill in the east San Francisco Bay Area. They had a swimming pool and I’d spend countless summer hours splashing about in that refreshing water as the smell of my grandmother’s cigarettes filled the air. After hours of fun, we’d dry off and watch “Star Wars” on her big TV for the thousandth time and eat a delicious dinner on her big table, passing food around on the lazy Susan fastened to it. The smell of the food and the smell of Marlboros wafted through the room. For me, it was a happy odor. I didn’t think about any of the nasty side effects.

These grandparents were the only significant people in my life to smoke for my entire childhood.

An occasional adult around me probably lit up, but no one of any consequence to me. My other grandmother smoked, but only on occasion and only when no one was looking. Neither my parents nor my parents’ friends smoked, and none of my peers did, either.

The aforementioned grandpa was a stern man: a former sheriff whom I only knew as gruff and distant and who spoiled my younger female cousins. When I was a teenager, I heard that he went to the doctor and was told he needed to quit smoking or die quickly. So he did. Cold turkey. He just put the cigarettes down for good. That was the only story of quitting I knew.

In college I traveled to Nevada for the first time. I knew in advance that the gambling halls would be different and exciting, but I didn’t expect that part of that mystique would be the lingering smell of stale tobacco that defined the casino air. Seeing people sitting at poker tables or slot machines with swirls of smoke coming from their lips was magical, defining the experience of a state filled with sin and freedom and seedy beauty. Sure, it made me cough and made my clothes reek so that my suitcase carried the odor home with me, but it was like a free souvenir that allowed me to relive my experience as I put the clothes in the washing machine.

It was a few years later, when I married at age 24, that I had another smoker in my life: my then-wife’s father. He was a great guy whom I liked a lot, but the man smoked like a chimney.

Though he wanted to quit, he just couldn’t. He was in his early 50s and I could tell it was killing him. That was the first time I hated cigarettes.

Now, I am with someone new and she smokes. From day one I told myself I could get her to quit, and she has given it real effort several times. But I see the pain the withdrawals put her through. The nicotine and whatever other chemicals they put in those little paper rolls are very powerful. They hook their claws into a person’s body and would rather tear at their flesh than let go.

So, for me, cigarette smoking has been a bittersweet thing. I know the effects of the habit are terrible; they control one’s life, slowly killing a person inside and out. But using cigarettes represents something great about human nature and our society: We have the ability to make choices for our lives that simultaneously make us feel better and worse. Some will choose to feel better by smoking, while others will not because they know it will make them feel worse in the long run. Some who smoke will do so their whole lives whether they want to or not, while other smokers will stop. Either way, it’s a choice. I truly believe our minds have the ability to overcome any addiction of the body.

Those of us who do not smoke might claim moral superiority and insist that people not be allowed to smoke around us while we eat (probably food that will make us obese or give us heart disease). Doctors and scientists say that’s great and I honestly prefer not to smell smoke while I eat, but part of me wants to find a way for Nevada, which thrives on the industries of choice’s underbelly, to accommodate everyone.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to go swimming. I hope someone is smoking nearby.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at norme@dailysparkstribune.com.
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