Burton on the Bay:

No Smoke Gets In My Eyes

Another nail in my coffin.

I've yet to understand what's really going on in Congress and the courts in regards to the awful habit many of us have.


The tobacco industry is on the ropes, which is fitting enough seeing the damage they have inflicted on the populace. Yet one can't help wonder if those who light up don't share an equitable part of the blame.

Anyone with any common sense must realize a cigar, pipe or cigarette once stoked up is another nail in the coffin. Such talk was only speculative back when, as a kid, I heard so many smokers talk of the consequences. But within the past 40 years, there has been enough medical evidence to convince the most skeptical of skeptics.

Smoking kills, so does the stuff chewed by so many. Yet it continues to be sold, smoked and enjoyed. It's a curious world.

First let it be known, this writer is among those who do, and has, since first lighting up short sticks of dried grape vine just for kicks at about age 13. I learned how by watching adults doing it during the Great Depression when some men couldn't afford cigarettes at even 10 cents a pack, the going price for Spuds.

Regular brands sold for 15 cents a pack, and times were so tough some country stores sold cigarettes individually, one cent a smoke. A cigar could be purchased for 5 cents, but it was smelly and presumably not a good smoke - or why else would the late U.S. Sen. Thomas Riley Marshall, while presiding over the Senate about a hundred years ago, make the famous remark "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."

I recall back in mid-century there was another senator, whose name eludes me, apparently figured there was no good cigar. Period. He bought them, but not only did he not smoke them. he chomped on them while they were still in their cellophane. True story, I recall reading it in his obituary - though there was no mention that his demise was attributed to tobacco seeping through the wrapper.


Akin to Lepers

Ruth Wilbur, Bill Burton's sister, with a pack of cigarettes passed out by Aldali Stevenson's campaign in 1952, below.

"The wretcheder one is, the more one smokes, and the more one smokes, the wretcheder one gets - a vicious circle."

So wrote George Louis Oamella Busson du Maurier well over a hundred years ago, and he had a good point, though those of us who light up choose to ignore the implication.

What a paradox, this use of tobacco. We know it kills, yet we pursue it, promising ourselves this will be the last pack. I'm quitting when this pack is gone.

Yet we never do - though I once didn't smoke my pipe for eight years.Bill's sister

Oh, we find excuses, we rationalize, and we justify, and we hammer another nail in the coffin. We might even ask ourselves: If its so bad, why does the government allow tobacco products to be manufactured and sold?

Via legislation, tobacco is off limits to minors, but is that meant to imply only minors are driving that nail? Of course not, but legislators have their curious ways.

The other day when I stopped by the local Royal Farms store, a teen-ager was griping to a clerk who wouldn't sell him a cigarette lighter. He didn't want anything to smoke, just a lighter - and he insisted it wasn't to light up - it was for use in his hobby. No deal, no lighter. It seems the younger set can't buy anything associated with smoking, which isn't such a bad idea.

Today, to many who don't smoke, those of us who do are something akin to lepers. Everywhere we see no smoking signs. Walk outside any office building, store, plant, and even some homes and you'll see people sweltering in summer, freezing in winter as they puff away. They've been banished, and now in some parks smokers aren't allowed to light up in the wide open spaces.


Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em

Youk'n hide de fier, but wa't you gwine to do with the smoke?

So wrote John Chandler Harris well over a century ago, and the question is more appropriate today than ever. Ask anyone who has tried to sneak a smoke in a place where it isn't allowed. Why it's as bad as it was back when I was a kid, who, like other farm boys, chewed on grass to conceal traces of burnt grape vine odor. We couldn't afford chewing gum or mints.

Most non-smokers of today undoubtedly agree with Thomas Carlyle, who a couple of hundred years ago wrote: "The suffering man ought really to consume his own smoke."

When I finally came out of the closet as I was about to enter the Navy, I was told I was the first Burton to ever smoke. And since, I've made up for a lot of those who abstained.

But back then, smoking was much more accepted. When overseas in World War II, the Red Cross gave us packs of cigarettes, most of which were donated by big corporations - often General Motors - which had a little sticker on each pack, obviously in the hope that once we were civilians again, we'd be so grateful we'd buy a General Motors car. Maybe it worked: My first two vehicles were Chevies, with five other GMs to follow over the years.

I recall no precautions by the Navy to discourage smoking. Why, when there were a few moments to spare from drills, there was the announcement "the smoking lamp is lit," which meant one could light up. In Bill Mauldin's famed Willie and Joe cartoons originating in Stars & Stripes, the GIs always had a cigarette hanging from their mouths.


Blue Smoke and Mirrors

Today, many politicians smoke only when away from crowds because they fear repercussions. Yet, recently my brother John - a non-smoker in Salt Lake City, where many Mormons still steal away to the mountains to enjoy a pipe or cigarette - found at a yard sale a couple of packs of vintage 1952 packs of cigarettes bearing the imprint Stevenson For President.

I recall those packs well. They were passed out when the Stevenson train made whistle stops at communities during the campaign, which I covered as a political reporter. There were packs everywhere in the press car, but we usually passed them up in favor of better-than-5-cent-cigars that were stacked next to typewriters by campaign managers.

Can you imagine what it would be like today for a candidate for any office anywhere to pass out cigarettes?

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VolumeVI Number 18
May 7-13 1998
New Bay Times

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