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December 14, 1996

Few things have changed so much in recent years as the public's attitude toward cigarette smokers and the names of the brands they puff on. I speak as a recovering addict myself, but it's been so long since I had one that I've almost forgotten what it was like. (Yes, I inhaled.)

Where are the brands of yesteryear? Remember Wings, Avalon, Domino, Kools, Raleighs, Chesterfield, L&M, Old Gold, Pall Mall, and all those others that used to woo us with their cunning advertising messages? Have they completely passed out of existence or simply adopted new names? I never see or hear about them any more. Radio and TV are barred from running their ads, few newspapers will accept them, and most of the magazines I subscribe to also stand aloof, for gosh sakes. I guess the new public attitude helps shape their perception of political correctness.

Does Winston still taste good, like a cigarette should? I wonder if Salems are still out there. There is still a Marlboro man, at least until the last one goes to that big roundup in the sky. Does Target still sell a cigarette-making machine for those who cannot afford the tailor-made brands? Packs of 20 standard brand cigarettes sold for 10 cents when I began. Today the same quantity costs more than a dollar. Right now I could not even tell you the name of the last cigarette I smoked. Lucky Strike and Camels are still on the market, I know, but today we mostly seem to have new brands like "GPC" and some others which I can't relate to because they did not exist a few short years ago.

Smoking used to be so universally accepted that ash trays and match books were found anywhere the public assembled or where folks just passed by. Cafes placed them on all tables, theater and hotel lobbies were plentifully equipped with smoking stands, and even the homes of non-smokers had ash trays at the ready for the use of guests who did indulge. Remember? Nowadays, most of those places ban the use of tobacco on their premises. Ash trays and cigarette lighters soon will be dropped as standard equipment on new cars.

For some time now the trend has been toward banning smoking altogether, even in such wide open spaces as football stadiums. At the very least, non-smoking sections are proudly offered almost everywhere. Some places just forbid smoking on their premises, period. People are being taken to court by non-smokers for inflicting "secondary smoke" damage on the lungs of innocent bystanders. More and more businesses are requiring employees to go outdoors to light up. On a cold winder day, with an icy wind blowing and perhaps frozen precipitation pelting them about the face, they have to really want a cigarette to indulge their habit.

It wasn't like that when I was a smoker. Tobacco was pushed at you from every direction and you could use it anywhere. It was more than acceptable, it was desirable and life-enhancing, according to the ad agencies. That was before Reader's Digest began telling us about the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, heart disease and really bad breath. Cigarette advertising saturated the airwaves, magazines, newspapers, billboards -- every conceivable medium assaulted us with the message. The movies showed us all their important actors and actresses puffing happily away. The biggest sports heroes, rodeo performers, Metropolitan Opera divas, big name singers and all kinds of celebrities told us (for a fee) which brand they preferred and urged us to light up with them. They said it was sexy to smoke, and I suppose that helped sell a lot of them. The Army handed them out like K rations, to GIs in World War II. All the name brands were readily available at drug stores, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and vending machines wherever you looked. No one had to ask to be seated in a "smoking section." It was OK everywhere.

I think the surgeon general is right and we're better off not smoking, but those who still indulge should not be treated as pariahs. They deserve a little tolerance and understanding for the health problems they are inflicting upon themselves. How about a "Be Kind to Smokers Day," perhaps scheduled right after the "Great American Smokeout Day?"

Take it from me, smoking is a tough habit to break. My secret method was to eat an apple whenever the urge emerged. It worked for me. I can't tell you exactly when I started, but I remember walking to school as a mid-teenager with my good friend Tommy Robinson. Both our families had apartments above the City Drug Store on the north side of the square. Tommy's folks ran the Temple Lunch. We fired up en route to school each morning while strolling along the east-west alley between Delaware and Elm, behind the Presbyterian church, and that's where we learned to smoke.

I can't say for sure when we started, but I know exactly when I quit. It was the Sunday afternoon in December when two young friends were married, and that's how I remember their anniversary. Happy 31st, Pam and David Sewell!