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The other day I was on my way to a meeting with someone who wanted me to provide entertainment at his company’s upcoming banquet. As I approached the entrance to the company’s building I noticed that he and three or four other people were huddled together about ten yards from the entrance and they were all smoking. I learned later that they had to be at least 50 feet from the entrance. The person I was meeting, quickly finished his cigarette so we could go inside for our smoke-free meeting.
Heading back to my place after the meeting, I thought about how the business of smoking has changed. I was lucky to have done all my puffing during the halcyon days of smoking, when cigarettes were seventy-five cents a pack and a person could light up and blow smoke at almost any one, any time, anywhere for any reason.
You could go visiting friends and if you felt like having a smoke you’d just take out your pack 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 his home with your noxious smoke.
Don’t think I’m defending the practice of puffing because I’m not. I was a pack-and-a-half a day smoker who quit almost 30 years ago and am glad I did.
Now, when I see articles about raising the tax on cigarettes I remember back to a time when cigarettes were cheap and smokers ruled!
Oh, 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, you could go and smoke up a storm right there in church basement 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 smoker. 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 come 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 lips 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.
Fortunately, I knew where the extinguisher was and the fire was quickly extinguished. Not much damage was done and I got another Al Crimmons story in the bargain.
Some lawmakers want to raise cigarette taxes, saying higher taxes will discourage smoking. According to an article I was reading, some of the money raised from a higher cigarette tax can 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-and-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 standing?

JJohn McDonald is a humorist and storyteller
who performs regularly throughout New England.
Contact John at or 899-1868.
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