While I was driving down the road the other day, I noticed a teenager walking along the sidewalk. The boy had longish hair and sported a lit cigarette in his hand. I knew I had seen him before. Yes, if I recall correctly, it was about 20 years ago, before he was even born. It wasn't the same boy, of course, but he reminded me of a lot of people I knew then.
All the way back to my childhood days, smoking was considered cool. I remember my sister and I buying candy cigarettes at the corner store and puffing away at them, pretending to be one of the in-crowd.
When I got older, I hung around friends who smoked, and in fact, I will admit that I even tried it once. After all, it was the still the thing to do. To my good fortune, I couldn't get past the nasty taste it left in my mouth and after one drag, I quickly decided it was not for me. Somehow, I overcame the peer pressure that went along with it, too, and I never became a smoker. Today, I consider myself lucky.
Being around smoke back then was the norm for me. My parents smoked. My grandparents smoked. Some of my other relatives smoked. By the time my friends began smoking, my body was already accustomed to breathing in their second-hand carcinogens. I may have put up with it, but I never liked it.
Before I graduated high school, my parents quit, and we all reaped the benefits. Eventually, my friends quit, too. It was a relief to be able to have a conversation without my arms swaying in the air, trying to shoo their cigarette fog. I could finally go home at the end of the night without my hair and clothes reeking of that dreaded stench.
It's nearly 20 years later. Cigarettes have not only become outrageously expensive -- I'm surprised people can still afford them -- but, news flash, they still cause cancer, along with other ailments. This is an era that emphasizes getting healthy, exercising and eating right. Even with smoking becoming a major no-no, I have to wonder: Is it still considered cool?
There are some people who don't want to quit. But there are also many who do and find that it's just too hard. That's why there are numerous programs out there to help. Health insurance companies are campaigning against lighting up. Friends and families are urging their loved ones to stop. The only people who haven't jumped on the bandwagon are the cigarette companies, but then who really cares about them? I certainly don't.
When the Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect prohibiting restaurants and bars from allowing smoking inside their establishments, I finally saw the decline beginning. There was hope for us at last! Smokers ranted and raved that it was taking away their rights; non-smokers hooted and hollered that they would finally be able to enjoy a paid meal in clean air. Restaurant owners feared that they would lose business.
Fast forward eight years and here we are. There are still a plethora of restaurants and bars out there. And not only that, fewer people are smoking.
Yet, as I watch that boy walking down the street with a cigarette in his hand, I am once again disheartened. He will someday, no doubt, endure the pain of trying to squash his addiction. It's a torturous task, I hear, and one that takes determination and commitment. I only hope that he succeeds and finds himself a survivor of it all.
Lynn Lombard, who lives in Akron, is disheartened by the number of teenagers who still take up smoking.