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Friends who smoke tell me it’s getting harder to be a serious cigarette smoker. Anyone can be a droll cigarette smoker and being an amusing smoker is easy. But it’s now clear that serious smoking is becoming well near impossible.
I was thinking about things like this the other day when I read in the paper that some health officials want to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes – again - making our cigarettes some of the highest taxed butts in the country.
I was lucky to have done all my huffing and puffing during the halcyon days of smoking when cigarettes were eighty-five cents a pack and a person could light up and blow smoke at anyone, anywhere for any reason.
You could go visiting friends and if you felt like having a smoke you’d just haul out your deck of cigarettes, light up and start puffing away. It was considered anti-social for a host to tell you that you couldn’t stink up their house with your noxious smoke.
You might have been discouraged from smoking in places like church, especially during funerals and such. But if the church was holding a more secular event like Bingo Night or they were having a festive Las Vegas-style fundraiser in the church basement, you could go and smoke up a storm right there in church and no one said a word.
Where do you think the phrase “Holy smoke!” came from?
Today, you can’t smoke at any inside job and anti-smokers are starting to lobby against all outside smoking, too.
That wasn’t always the case. One of my first jobs was as an announcer at a radio station in Ellsworth. Not only did the boss make sure that there were several large ashtrays (remember them?) in every office and studio in the building but he also arranged to have a cigarette machine right there in the employees lounge.
In those days I was doing the six to midnight shift on the air and I would relieve a coffee-guzzling, chain-smoking guy named Al Crimmons who did the noon to six shift.
Al drank several gallons of coffee a day and was a three pack-a-day man. He would light his next cigarette from the one he was still smoking and he often had two or tree cigarettes going at once, sitting precariously on the edge of overflowing ashtrays around the studio.
When I came in to start my shift Al would often jump in surprise and more than once his startled response sent an ashtray or two tumbling to the floor where live cigarette ashes would sometimes get the rug to smoldering.
I remember one time when Al was scurrying around the studio straightening things up before leaving. He had a fresh-lit cigarette dangling from his mouth and just before he went out the door he emptied all the ashtrays into the wastebasket. About thirty minutes later the wastebasket burst into flames.
Lucky for me I knew where the extinguisher was and the fire was quickly put out. Not much damage was done and I got another Al Crimmons story in the bargain.
According to this article I was reading, some of the money raised from a cigarette tax increase will fund programs that encourage people to quit smoking.
But, if people quit smoking won’t they sell less cigarettes? And if they sell less cigarettes won’t the tax have to go higher to raise the same amount of money for the smoker cessation programs?
I don’t know where it’s all going to end but can you imagine what the tax will be on the last cigarette pack sold to the last smoker still breathing?
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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