Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006| “Smoking ban kicks in tomorrow,” sayeth a headline in the other San Diego daily.

What’s this? A new ban? Even in the fresh air? There have been so many bans and/or restrictions. First it was in sections of restaurants, then airplanes, then most everything indoors. Then they went outdoors. Even Qualcomm Stadium became virtually smoke free. Now the Marlboro Man has disappeared, perhaps he rode into the sunset where he can light up with John Wayne.

Now the ban has been extended to the beaches. Smoking was virtually considered a duty when I was a kid and is now taboo in the breeziest place in town.

This chaos is hard to take for a fellow who has been through the smoking/non-smoking cycle so often. I smoked and quit several times. Some non-smoking stints lasted little longer than Seau’s retirement. But it’s now been 27 years and five marathons smoke free.

It wasn’t easy in the good days if you didn’t smoke, especially when married to a smoker. I can remember one trip when we were coming home from the East Coast. The only question at the airport was: “Smoking or non smoking?” My wife took care of that problem.

“Smoking,” she declared in a tone of voice that overruled any possible objection I might have had.

Smoking it was on the long, overnight flight from Miami, and smoking they did, practically everybody except Bertha. She strapped on the seatbelt and fell asleep. Her next moment of consciousness came when she had to put her seat to an upright position as we approached Los Angeles International Airport.

I sat among folks who lit up as soon as the “no smoking” light went off. At least I think most of them lit up. You couldn’t see very far in the thick soup of tobacco smoke in the rear of the plane. The fumes ruined a good night’s nap, but my wife slept peacefully all the way, perhaps dreaming of the fine vacation we just had in the Bahamas.

(Let me add that a while after that Bertha also kicked the habit and has since run hundreds of races including several 10-Ks. Let me also add that neither of us has won any, but we’re merely 76 years old.)

C. Everett Koop, Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general, claimed smoking was more addictive than heroin. I couldn’t affirm that, but I do know the habit is a real bear to kick. The tobacco industry has never willingly owned up to that, some suspect it’s a matter of self interest, those zillions of dollars ya know.

In fact, with one exception, I only know of one habitual smoker who has not tried to quit. Ya gotta give grudging admiration to someone who is as adamant about continuing the habit as my good friend and fellow writer, Betty. She refuses to go to a restaurant that bans smoking, and I don’t think you can find one of them closer than Nevada.

Otherwise the plaint goes much like the old song by Tex Williams:

Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette

Puff, puff, puff until you smoke yourself to death.

Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate

That you hate to make him wait,

But you gotta have another cigarette.

Ol’ Tex made a lot of money off that song until he died of cancer.

When I joined the Navy, smoking was manly. The motto was “OK men, smoke ’em if you got ’em.” We were given a couple of packs of cigarettes plus a cigar for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Tobacco companies gave cases of cigarettes to military hospitals. Even after the big war we could sometimes find tax free fags for a nickel a pack.

Heroes smoked. Both heavyweight champions Joe Louis and a minor movie actor named Ronald Reagan told us how great Chesterfields were. Bogie would dangle one from his lips as he worked his charm on Lauren. A great scene in old movies was when the heroine would light two and put one in the hero’s mouth. Bertha used to do that for me when I was driving. It was one of several interesting things we did in a car before we got married.

In the 1950s, Mickey Mantle became one of baseball’s great success stories and showed that his versatility wasn’t limited to switch hitting. He endorsed Camels even though he didn’t smoke. Then, when some zealous do-gooder pointed that out, the Mick learned to do what I’d learned as a pre-teener. He dutifully puffed away in public, just to preserve his integrity. Even later when the medical professionals – except those hired by tobacco companies – came out with the bad news about smoking and lung cancer, the superstar earned a pretty penny by endorsing Nicoban, a product to help kick the habit.

One of California’s first attempts to deglamorize smoking was Proposition 5 in 1978. It merely required restaurants, but not bars, to set aside separate sections for smokers and non smokers. Later propositions or statutes were more draconian. This last one takes the cake, but my opposition to it will be a bit muted. A few years ago three of my friends, all smokers, died of lung cancer within half a year.

But meanwhile, smokers puff away if ya got ’em. I know the habit is still there even though the glamour is gone. You have an impelling history to uphold, even if you have to cross a state line to do it.

Keith Taylor is program chair for the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry. He can be reached at Or, send a letter to the editor.

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