A few puffs of smoke, and a happy ending

By Rick Houser – 

From time to time I have gone into great detail about the growing of tobacco.  This was my family’s cash crop as it was for almost all of the farmers in the region during the years that I farmed. I’m sure I have explained how this was the most labor intensive crop that a farmer could raise and just how hard we worked and then the pride in the production of the crops we raised.
This of course is true and does cover one side of the coin. But as time has passed, I have given it a lot of thought and feel like now it is time to deliver the other side of the coin. Not only was I a tobacco farmer, I was also a tobacco user. Yes, I was a cigarette smoker. I began smoking at a very young age and since it was the early to mid-sixties, little if any concern about this habit was ever given much of a thought.  I began to smoke even before the surgeon general had yet to post his warning on a pack.
The truth was that smoking had yet to be exposed for what damage it can do until I was far into my days of lighting up.  Everyone in my family smoked except my Mom and from time to time, she would light up one but do a very poor job with the task. We were tobacco farmers and it was only right that we supported the product we had raised. At the time it sounded like a good reason, or at least I thought it sounded good.
In my pre-teens the Marshall Brothers and I experimented and made several attempts at smoking. Since we didn’t have  much access to real cigarettes, we would go into the woods and find a dried weed and hollow it out and cut it to the length of a cigarette and then grind a dried leaf up and stuff it into the weed. We then would light it up, would draw a puff, and pass it on, similar to the Indians and their peace pipe.
The difference was that most times with us there would be more coughing and turning a little green than with an experienced smoker.  We, of course, would deny any negative effects from it but I will confess at this time that there might have been.. We didn’t stop either as we would repeat the same process and use a different tree leaf hoping that we would find a much milder one, something we had little success at.
Just as I was beginning this habit, my Dad was cutting back and trying to quit. Each day he would buy a pack of Salems and smoke some of them. When he got home, he deposited the pack in the top drawer of a file cabinet. After a while the drawer began to overflow. That was when I figured that Dad wouldn’t miss just one pack now would he? Every few days I would think, “he wouldn’t miss another”, until one morning he sat me down and said “I know you are using my cigarettes. Smoking is a bad habit You shouldn’t smoke but if you are you will have to buy your own.” That ended the trips to the file cabinet, though he said this with a lit cigarette in his hand the entire time.
When I began my smoking habit,  I was farming and most of the time the wind would burn away most of the cigarette and I would be too busy to smoke much anyway. However, as I began to work away from the farm, I held positions where I did much more sitting at a desk than working outside. Even though we were now in the 70’s,  smoking was still not only acceptable, but just second nature. When I worked in a bank as a teller, I had an ash tray at my teller’s window and not one person ever said a word.
Still in the 80’s, things hadn’t yet changed and my desk always had room for a huge ash tray. Needless to say as time passed and the more I was at a desk, the more I smoked.
My sister and brother were both smokers but they smoked Kool Filters. It seemed that when we were all together I would end up bumming from them and when I would offer them a Salem, they refused and said they didn’t like them. I got the bright idea that I would change to Kools so I could repay them when the time came again, but I never stopped smoking Salems. It wasn’t long until I was smoking both brands and had quickly doubled my habit from two packs a day to four packs a day!
I was way out of control and what I kept telling my wife was that I could handle it. (Who was I kidding?) Another little item that didn’t stop me was that my wife was allergic to smoke. At this time,  I wasn’t raising tobacco anymore and the AMA had taken on the tobacco industry and began to get restraints on those who used tobacco in any way.  As time passed the price per pack of cigarettes rose quickly and I swore I would stop if the cost passed a dollar a pack.
I must admit that I can be a little bit stubborn. This was never truer than at that point in my life.  My smoking had hit an all-time high and I was dealing with rougher cases of bronchitis and more severe sinus conditions. A couple of times I developed pneumonia, but I didn’t stop. I was fast approaching the point of breathing becoming optional.
That was until one day I was at work and at 4: 20 p.m. on March 25, 1985, I began to remove a cigarette from the pack and stopped. I was feeling so bad that I put it back and thought, “I will just wait until I get home.” Once home I again thought it over and decided that I would wait until after supper. This went on the rest of the night and as I went into the next day I had yet to take the next smoke, and I still haven’t.
As much as I prided myself in the tobacco crops I grew and the  good prices I would get at the warehouse, I will leave you with this. I am much more proud of the fact I quit.  Fortunately to this day, I have suffered little health damage from my days of fogging up. That is just plain good luck for me, so I guess this story really does have a happy ending.