Monday, May 18, 2009

Smoke Signals

I used to be a cigarette smoker. I mean to tell you, I was a serious addict, a light-'em-off-each-other smoke fiend. In my early twenties, when I was doing my heaviest ripping and running, I was using an Alfred Dunhill short holder with a crystal filter and I still had to grab a spoonful of honey in the morning to coat my raw throat so I could have that first morning cigarette comfortably. I was so addicted that even after I'd been quit for twenty years, I picked them up again -- not even wanting to, but seemingly helpless to fight off the urge.

But that was a decade or so ago and I seem to have cleared the hurdle this time. And of course, in stereotypical "reformed smoker" fashion, I notice my friends and my students lighting up one after another (at damned near $5 a pack, for God's sake!), while they hack between puffs if they're my age or bemoan their latest cold or flu or whatever, if they're not, as if all manner of physical manifestations weren't directly attributable to their veeeeeery damaging habit.

Still, except for an occasional comment, I usually mind my own business about it. Smokers are strung out behind their addiction, after all, and by and large, have heard it all before and just haven't decided to do anything about it. And while I have a major problem accepting it as a "privacy issue" when second-hand smoke will kill a non-smoker, too (would anyone claim drunk driving is a "privacy issue"?), I pick my battles and that's not one I see as possible to win, as a rule.

Then, the other day, I came across some information I found interesting: tobacco is the #1 killer of African-Americans, bringing down more than 47,000 Black people in this country per year. In fact, tobacco-related deaths and diseases affect communities of color almost twice as much as all other communities. Heart disease, stroke, cancer -- they're all easily traced in many cases to cigarette smoking and the presence of second-hand smoke.

Latricia Dixon, the Regional Coordinator for the Communities of Color Network of The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living reminded me recently that nicotine is a drug and that oppressed and depressed poor people of color are quick to pick up what some folks call "cancer sticks" because their "nerves are bad." Well, no lie. Being poor and Black in the United States would be enough to make anybody's nerves "bad." But what's so interesting about this government taxed and subsidized drug pushing business is that, if you pay attention, you can't help but notice that the biggest, flashiest cigarette ads are disproportionately to be found in Black neighborhoods. Kinda makes you wanna go "Hmmmm...", doesn't it?

And why am I not surprised?

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