Cigarette – n. 3 inches of rolled paper containing an average of 1 gram of tobacco, sometimes connected to a filter.
Three inches of rolled paper. That’s it. There is no hardened steel protecting the contents or providing strength. It’s just paper, yet more than a billion people worldwide are controlled by the very thing that crumbles when the slightest pressure is applied.
The addictive power of cigarettes and tobacco products is common knowledge at this point in time. Everyone knows – kids, teens, adults and the little old man sitting outside the nursing home with his oxygen tank and a pack of Marlboro Reds. Kids pretend to smoke pencils and straws and even beg for those little candy cigarettes that can still be found in candy stores. Tweens and teens sneak one or two from their parent’s pack and meet their friends behind the school to taste the forbidden fruit of tobacco’s burn. Adults pull on their coats and shoes to stand outside in the wind and rain and snow just to quench the burning desire for nicotine. The elderly struggle for a breath through coughing fits while connected to tubes fighting to providing life sustaining air to tar filled lungs. But why? Why do we ever start in the first place?
My personal opinion? Secondhand smoke.
We could give a hundred different reasons for the epidemic of tobacco use, but I say it has to do with the insanely addictive qualities of secondhand smoke. We know that secondhand smoke is dangerous – that one has been proven. But for all the research that has been conducted, no one has determined a way to end nicotine addiction.
So, let me explain why I think secondhand smoke is the culprit. My dad smoked when I was a kid, but by the time I came along he had cut back and no longer smoked around us. My older brothers had friends with parents who smoked in the car and in the house, but I was never really exposed to secondhand smoke. At least not until my first semester of college. I was in honors classes so most of my classes were with the same 20 students. There were two classes back to back with about 15 minutes in between. They were in the same building and we didn’t really have time to do anything more than step outside into the courtyard. Most of my classmates smoked so we all just sat outside for a “smoke break.” I never smoked, but I spent 15 minutes a day in a cloud of secondhand smoke.
I didn’t see this as an issue until Christmas break. I was home – and away from the secondhand smoke – for a few days before my head started to hurt. It lasted for days and I just felt horrible, but I could not determine the cause of the discomfort. Soon, all the family arrived in town. Several of my aunts, uncles and cousins were smokers and I just happened to walk outside as they congregated around the ash tray. After a few seconds, my headache faded, and I felt alive again. I thought nothing of it. Family left after Christmas and I had another week or two of headaches before school started back. I went to the first class of the new semester and headed outside to the courtyard to wait. The cloud of smoke floated my way and immediately my headache eased. It was in that moment that I realized – despite all my efforts to rise above peer pressure and just say no, I had become addicted to secondhand smoke.
Now, I didn’t take up smoking. I avoided the smoke-filled areas and fought through a few more weeks of headaches until it was out of my system and I could breathe again. But the reality is, even though I have never smoked, I could have easily taken up the habit just to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. And that is why I believe secondhand smoke is the culprit behind every new generation of smokers.
If I was the law, I would arrest every adult who smokes in the presence of a non-smoker – child or adult. Guess it’s a good thing I’m not.