What if you never smoked?

Smoking and Lung Cancer Rates Over Time

What If You Never Smoked?

I’ve never smoked.

I could not get the image of rolling up a dollar bill and lighting it out of my mind.

I was way too cheap to buy cigarettes.

And, I had no illusions that I was cool. Even smoking wouldn’t have changed that.

Drugs came behind me in college, except for LSD, which I thought foolish to try when kids were trying to fly off roofs.

A “grasser” in college was spreading a blanket out on the grass and drinking beer.

So I was fascinated to learn, as an adult, that women used to be arrested for smoking in public.

It all changed when the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and a specialist in crowd influencing, helped his tobacco client by arranging for models to smoke while walking in the Macy’s Day Parade in 1929.

He had tapped into women’s desire for freedom and equality and promised they’d be thin and glamorous.

Smoking, along with the 20-year lag for lung cancer, increased among women for the next 35 years.

By 1965, the year I graduated from high school, 33.9% of women were smoking, the peak.

This was a year after the Surgeon General issued a report on smoking’s dangers.

By 1970, smoking was down to 31.5% of women, declining to 29.3% in 1980, 22.8% in 1990 and 21% in 2004.

Still, though the rate of smoking during pregnancy was down 40 percent between 1990 and 2005, 10.7 percent of women still smoked during pregnancy in 2005.

I knew pregnant women who smoked when I was pregnant in 1968.

The common understanding then was that the placenta protected the baby and nothing could get through.

But, by then we also knew that smoking or drinking during pregnancy was a bad idea.

Even then, women who lit up while obviously pregnant were defensive about the habit.

Yet, I was mystified recently when a friend told me that his sister had pretty much barred their mother from her newborn.

Finally, frustrated, her mother went out for a pack of cigarettes and went home to Texas, from Virginia, instead of returning to visit her daughter.

The brother was could not understand it and I chalked it up to a new mother’s over-protectiveness.

Then, I shared the story with a group of young mothers.

“The grandmother went out for a pack of cigarettes!” they gasped.

“No wonder the new Mom wouldn’t let her near the baby. Second-hand smoke is a real problem for newborns!”

Indeed, we now know that second-hand smoke puts babies at increased risk for SIDS, asthma, ear infections and pneumonia.

My mother-in-law smoked until she was in her 50s, despite her grandchildren’s pleas that she stop.

She lived into her 90s, cancer-free.

Dana Reeve never smoked, but died of lung cancer.

We recently ran across tiny Indian brass slippers in my mother-in-law’s things that we, none of us smokers, couldn’t identify until an antique store owner told us they were individual ashtrays.

It’s like gambling. Do you feel lucky?

Have you ever smoked in front of your grandchildren?

Why did you decide to or not to smoke?

Do your children smoke?

To you and showing your grandchildren what we’ve learned.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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