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Smoking was cool

He was a hard worker, rugged outdoorsman, hunter, angler, golfer, 11 years younger than me, a cousin.  I gave him a bicycle and a 22 Marlin rifle when I enlisted in the navy in 1943 at age 17. 

Because of the difference in our ages I never kept in touch with him much, I seldom went back to the small rural community. When I did attend a reunion I had to drive by the military monument in the center of town. It contains the name of my brother, a paratrooper in WWII, killed in action in the Battle of the Bulge. I avert my gaze as I drive by.

My cousin was influenced by the manliness of the Marlboro man. He smoked three packs a day, starting young. Everybody smoked when I was a youngster. There are other respiratory hazards; pollen, insect sprays, dust, mold, asbestos, DDT.

As an economy measure during the depression, many smokers rolled their cigarettes. When I did that for my dad, I would thin them out some enabling me to make some extras for me, hiding my cache away for smoking when I was out hunting or on horseback.

He worked in a factory in Terre Haute making cooking utensils, coated pots and pans; hot place, no air condition, caustic, breathed it all day, along with the cigarettes; eventually charcoaled his throat. 

18 years ago he underwent a laryngectomy procedure and lost the top half of a lung. His sporting days were over. Now breathes through a stoma suffering frequent bouts of pneumonia. Holding a conversation is embarrassing so he has become reclusive.

Many years ago my dental hygienist noticed discoloration in the top of my mouth and advised me to stop smoking if I did not want throat cancer. It might not happen but shooting craps is a huge possibility. I quit, discarded my pipes, no patches, no gimmicks, I wanted to continue my outdoor regimen. 

Emails from my cousin’s wife chronicle the steady decline in his health. 

I visited with him on occasion when attending a school reunion. It is not a pretty sight. I’m glad I quit long ago.

Kept alive by an oxygen tank, he said, “If I had it to do over would I never have been influenced by slick advertising. I’d give anything to go fishing or camp out again.” 

His wife is an angel, catering to his overwhelming needs for the past several years. He exists on an oxygen tank.

Cigarette companies really romanced their products: Call for Phillip Morris-Smoke Kool-Smoke Kool -I’d walk a mile for a Camel – Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War.

Companies today are mandated by law to reveal on their packs the damaging results of smoking. Despite the known effects we see people smoking cigarettes. It seems strange that anyone would continue conduct that will negatively impact their lives, abuse prescription drugs, alcohol, illegal drugs, speeding, playing with guns….causing suffering, even death. 

York is a WW II navy veteran and retired President of York Furs in Buckhead. You can contact him by email at: