Thursday, December 10, 2009

STILL SMOKING?

Did you ever see "Now Voyager?" Bette Davis getting her cigarette lit by Paul Henreid ... wow!
(If you haven't seen that movie, see it now with a box of tissues handy.

I'll bet smokers who see the film, feel affirmed. It made me want to learn to smoke. But the first time I took a puff, my eyes teared -- I coughed and gagged -- I hated the taste -- first time was the last time.

✪ Fact: (in last week's Time Magazine.)
In the U.S. and other developed countries, big tobacco is on the run. Fewer than 20% of Americans now smoke — the lowest percentage since reliable records started being kept.

No doubt about it -- it's brave to smoke these days -- to be one of those people -- secretary, clerk, receptionist, who sneaks outside, no matter how inclement the weather, no coat, hat, or gloves -- taking a cigarette break, clustering with friends, inhaling, exhaling.

I glance at the women huddled in front of an AT&T store. They all look young.

I feel them thinking "To Hell with passersby, who stare, and avoid us, move around as if we're lepers."

I sense they're proud of being part of a non-conforming, courageously independent, little group.

✪ Fact: This year, Washington boosted federal cigarette taxes from 32 cents a pack to $1 and gave the FDA the power to regulate cigarettes like any other food or drug.

"To Hell with the cost -- it's worth it!" -- that's got to be what those smokers think,

They're aware, as I am -- many stars smoke -- hardly any movies are made without someone handsome and cool, someone adorable, and gorgeous, taking out a cigarette, lighting up in his/her special way.

For instance Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt. Britney Spears, Jennifer Aniston, Johnny Depp, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Scarlett Johansson, and Demi Moore -- Access Hollywood said the fearless, iconoclastic Demi smokes even though her much younger husband, Ashton Kutcher disapproves.

Anyhow, though our country has fewer smokers, smoking is exploding everywhere else in the world.

✪ According to Time, this year, tobacco companies will produce more than 5 trillion cigarettes — or about 830 for every person on the planet.

Scary figure. I know quite a few people who still smoke -- friends, relatives, teachers, doctors, lawyers -- even our President, who gave it up, admits he misses smoking.

✪ Fact: In China, 350 million people are hooked on tobacco, which means the country has more smokers than the U.S. has people. Smoking rates in Indonesia have quintupled since 1970. Africa still enjoys the lowest smoking rates in the world, largely because most people there can't afford cigarettes.

Those women, in front of AT&T -- that thin column of smoke coming out of the brunette's nose -- it's a line -- that non-smokers like me can't cross -- a invisible divide between me and them.

✪ Fact: The tobacco industry is working hard to get more customers -- despite the World Health Organization's treaty, their plan to attack global smoking, with bans and tax hikes. So far, 167 countries have signed the treaty -- determined to stop smoking for good.

Don't those women worry about cancer? Aren't they sick and tired of seeing the ads, like that guy with the voice-box? Do they joke about the statistics, the probabilities -- the life and death aspects?

Or is it like crack, heroin, XTC (ecstasy), all the latest uppers and downers? It's your own business, not anyone else's.

Maybe it's the adolescent thing, a penchant for doing what's forbidden -- testing it, trying it, fearlessly enjoying whatever it is -- rock-climbing, bungee-jumping, jet-skiing? Doing what most people are afraid to do?

They say that danger is terrifically exhilarating -- the aftermath is an overpowering sense of being alive.

Hmm.

I'll take Bette and Paul Henreid smoking, and be moved, touched, thrilled, quite overpowered by their romance. But playing with life and death -- no --nope -- no thanks. I'll play with life things.

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