No Smoking . . . Pretty Please


September 17, 1995|By DAVE BARRY

As a ranking national opinion-maker (currently in 1,539th place, between Tony Danza and Lamar Alexander), I would like to do my part for President Clinton's campaign to get teen-agers to stop smoking cigarettes. Ready? Here goes:

You teen-agers stop smoking cigarettes right now!!

There! Did that do the trick?

I didn't think so. Your modern teen-ager is not about to listen to advice from an old person, defined as "a person who remembers when there was no Velcro."

I can understand this. I was a young person once, shortly after the polar ice caps retreated, and I distinctly recall believing that virtually all adults were clueless goobers. Exhibit A was: their hats. If you young people look at photographs taken 35 or 40 years ago, you will note that the adults, no matter how nice the weather is, are wearing major formal headgear -- for the men, the serious Mr. Businessman model, the kind of hat that makes everybody who puts one on look like the late Fred MacMurray; for the women, all kinds of comical, ottoman-sized fashion contraptions, sometimes festooned with enough artificial fruits and vegetables to support an artificial family of four.

We young people were not inclined to take advice from people who voluntarily looked like that. So we tended to disregard their rules, of which there were many. For example, in those days there was a rule that you absolutely had to wait for one full hour after eating before you could go swimming, because otherwise you would get a cramp and drown. This rule was strictly enforced by wristwatch-wearing moms. Apparently there was a required course in Mother School wherein leading medical authorities showed, with diagrams, that if a person were to eat a single saltine cracker, and then wait only 59 minutes before going into the water, this person would instantly cramp up and drown, even if the water were only ankle deep.

Naturally we young people broke this rule every chance we got. I will reveal here, for the first time, that on one occasion, when I was approximately 9, Neil Thompson and I ate hot dogs underwater. We survived, and we realized, as most young people realize, that we were invulnerable.

Of course grown-ups in those days told us that we shouldn't smoke. But it was hard to take them seriously, since most of them smoked. Also, cigarettes were advertised on television, in commercials that stressed the amazing scientific advances that had been incorporated into modern cigarettes. For example, Parliament cigarettes had a commercial wherein perky singers informed the public that:

"Every Parliament gives you . . . EXTRA MARGIN!

DTC The filter's recessed and made to stay

A neat, clean, quarter-inch away!"

Think of it! A recessed filter! No way you could get cancer from a cigarette like that!

My first cigarette was a Kent (With the Micronite filter! Whatever Micronite was!). Louie Rotando gave it to me one night the summer I turned 15. Words cannot describe how cool and mature I felt, inhaling the smoke, then exhaling it through my nose, then inhaling, then exhaling, then -- in a major display of mature coolness -- lying down in the dirt and retching until dawn.

That was my body's way of telling me that it personally did not care for cigarettes. But I did not listen to my body: I was determined to become a smoker. My reasoning was the same then as it is for teen-agers today:

Arguments against smoking: It's a repulsive addiction that slowly but surely turns you into a gasping, gray-skinned, tumor-ridden invalid, hacking up brownish gobs of toxic waste from your one remaining lung.

Arguments for smoking: Other teen-agers are doing it.

Case closed! Let's light up! That's what I did, and I eventually reached the point where not only could I tolerate cigarettes, but I actually needed them so badly that if I ran out of my own, late at night in the newspaper office, I would root around in the wastebaskets and smoke stale, stinking, spit-stained butts.

Of course you young smokers starting out today have years to go before you reach that level of coolness and maturity. Meanwhile, I'm sure you don't want to hear any lectures from the likes of me or President Clinton. So I'm going to just shut up now, although I imagine the president will keep pushing his crusade until Congress passes another one of those high-impact federal programs. Then he can light up another one of his victory cigars. But don't worry: He won't inhale.

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