Category Archives: Health

When Buying a Pack of Cigarettes Is Like Buying a Condom

I smoked. I started when I was 16. Cigarettes were twenty five cents in 1959. I posed with a cigarette dangling from my lips as an 18 year old in the Air Force, imitating the movie actors in the World War II movies. When I was twenty I was stationed in Germany, where waiters in even moderately priced restaurants would appear out of nowhere when you took out a cigarette and light it for you. I smoked until I got out of the Air Force at 22, then quit. Then started again. Then quit. Then started again. Then quit when I decided I didn’t like the way it made my hair and clothes smell. Cancer was bad, but smelly hair and clothes were intolerable. Then I started again when I got a sudden urge, but didn’t even finish the pack. I was about a one cigarette a year smoker for a few years. Then, finally, I quit for good in my early thirties.

Last week I got a text from my wife. “Could you pick up my prescription at CVS and get me a pack of cigarettes?” I thought it was some kind of a joke and that I wasn’t getting it. My wife never smoked and I didn’t think she was starting now. I didn’t get the cigarettes.

But it wasn’t a joke. She wanted a pack of cigarettes – for a school project. She’s a school nurse and every year she has to prepare a presentation for the elementary school kids about the dangers of smoking.

I made a special trip to a liquor store to get a pack of cigarettes. It was embarrassing, like it is for a teenaged boy going into a drugstore to buy a condom to put in his wallet in case he gets lucky. I hoped nobody would see me. The conversation with the clerk was awkward. I asked for my old brand, paid six dollars and change, and put them into my pocket. I left the store quickly. I felt the old urge quickly. I dismissed the old urge quickly. It’s been about 36 years since I smoked. It’s a strong urge.

My wife crumpled up the cigarettes and put them in two jars filled with water. She let them sit overnight and took them to school the next day. Each jar was labelled, “Smell this.”