Era gone in a puff of smoke

National non-smoking Week has passed with little fanfare

Last week was National Non-smoking Week in Canada. There was not much publicity surrounding this event and maybe that’s because it is now aimed at a minority of our population, those who still smoke.

I have never smoked in my life but I have had my share of vices and frailties so I have to be careful to not sound ‘holier than thou,’ but in my lifetime there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of people lighting up.

You only have to look through old magazines and see the full page glossy ads for cigarettes. There were handsome, rugged men telling us how refreshing the new menthol cigarettes were or glamorous women with long gloves holding elegant cigarette holders showing us that real women could enjoy smoking as well as the men.

Weekly television shows and specials were sponsored by tobacco companies and we all knew jingles like, ‘Winston tastes good,(clap, clap,) like a cigarette should.’ Our heroes on the big screen and the TV smoked and promoted tobacco.  Picture James Dean with the pack tucked in the sleeve of his T-shirt and the smoke hanging from his lip, or Humphrey Bogart taking a long drag before delivering one of his memorable lines.

You can turn on an old re-run of Kojak and watch a scene from their squad room where they are all smoking and Telly’s Tiparello is adding to the blue cloud suspended from the ceiling. To see someone smoking on TV now is rare indeed but it was a cool thing to do back then.

My Dad smoked from his early teens and he would be up early getting ready for work.  I would hear him hack and cough and I vowed never to smoke but each night we would roll his cigarettes for the next day. We had the canned tobacco, the long papers and the roller that would cut them into four and we would put the finished product in the tin so he could light one off the other, and no sissy filters either.

I recall firefighters sitting on the tailboard and having a smoke after taking off their self contained breathing apparatus.

Many young people working in restaurants now never knew a time when we were asked, ‘Smoking or non-smoking, sir?’ when we went out for dinner. That segregation was not popular with those who enjoyed lighting up after a meal and an even less popular decision was when it was banned altogether.

“The restaurant business will die, the pubs will close; if we can’t smoke we just won’t go out to eat or drink.” Society does not like to accept regulations that challenge our lifestyle.

The glossy photos in magazines have been replaced by pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packages and people still go out to eat or drink but the after-dinner smoke is confined to a little cage outside. We tend to put all our endangered species in cages, don’t we?

So what’s next on the list of things that will be controlled, regulated or banned? We are working on tougher regulations for alcohol and cellphones and I’m looking forward to being asked, ‘Texting or non-texting, sir?’ when I go out for dinner. I really think they should have their own section. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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