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Cigarette Smoke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mother didn’t smoke.

My father, who likely picked up the habit as a soldier in World War II, when cigarettes were included in C-rations, smoked until he caught my younger brother stealing cigarettes off his dresser when he was in junior high.

My father smoked off and on the rest of their life, as did my brother. I don’t know if my father’s eventual hemorrhagic stroke, a death 20 years earlier than all the men in his family, was related to smoking or not.

I didn’t fit any of the categories that seemed to draw teenagers to smoking.

I was thin.

I was reasonably confident in my own judgment.

I was tall.

I was not cool and knew smoking wouldn’t change that.

I was cheap.

Though I wear my hair wrapped in a towel instead of a shower cap because I once saw Katherine Hepburn do it in a movie and thought it divinely feminine, I was not persuaded by actresses lighting up.

I saw no advantage in making yourself sick in order to learn how to engage in an expensive habit.

I saw and still see a mental image of a dollar bill rolled up and lit on fire every time I see someone light up.

I had no opinion of others who smoked, particularly, just thought it was a false promise that they would be thin, confident and cool if they smoked.

I must not have hung out with kids who smoked.

I remember going to a folk concert in high school with some friends and some European teenagers who were visiting. One of them asked around for a match. None of us smoked.

In 1978, I took a three-week trip to China, an early privilege awarded to alumni of George Washington University.

One of our Chinese guides asked several of the American women if she could borrow a cigarette. None of us smoked.

“American women smoke, don’t they?” she asked.

“Yes, some American women do. None of us do,” we answered.

She eventually borrowed a cigarette from a guy in the group, determined to show that she was equal to men, a recent and empowering concept in Chinese culture, at a time when cigarettes were put out on trays in every business meeting in China.

She spent the rest of the trip throwing up and vowed never to smoke again.

The only time I was seriously tempted, I could not.

When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband lived in Army barracks and I roomed with another Army wife.

She smoked. I came to understand the power of habit after months of living with someone who lit up every night after dinner.

But, by 1968, the evidence was clear on smoking and pregnancy, though not yet on second-hand smoke.

I was talking to a neighbor during that time, also pregnant, who dismissed the warnings, but knew she was already going against common wisdom when she lit up.

“I smoked the whole time I was pregnant with our first child,” she claimed defensively, “and, he’s fine.”

Statistics are no guarantee of the outcome for any single individual, but the evidence has only gotten stronger against smoking during pregnancy since that 1968 incident.

It is a rare pregnant woman today who will smoke or drink in public and face society’s disapproval.

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, low birth weight, and is a risk factor for SIDS.

The only ashtrays I have in my house are mementos of my father. I use them to hold my perfume bottles.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

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


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