`I Kept On Smoking' -- When Bogie And Bacall Symbolized Glamor, No One Knew There Was Danger In That Cigarette
"You've come a long way baby," I congratulated myself in 1984, borrowing the advertising slogan of a leading brand of cigarettes. I had finally won my battle against cigarettes after smoking for 35 years, finally defeated that two-pack-a-day addiction.
But I bragged too soon. I'm now fighting another battle, one against cancer of the esophagus. It's one I'm not expected to win.
Cigarette smoking gave an aura of sophistication and glamour. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Hollywood's most glamorous couple, were shown in a haze of smoke on the silver screen. (He later died of cancer of the esophagus.)
Femme fatale Marlene Dietrich, in her low-cut, sexy gowns, frequently had a cigarette dangling from her fingers.
Edward R. Murrow, famed and respected newscaster, never was seen without a cigarette. (He became a lung-cancer victim.)
The image smoking enjoyed while I was growing up started even earlier.
In a photograph from the '30s touting the film "Public Enemy," starring Jean Harlow and James Cagney, the blond bombshell is shown smoking a cigarette and he's holding a smoking gun.
The longtime favorite romantic song, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" originally came out in 1933 and has since enjoyed many revivals in popularity.
By the '50s we were watching fluttery Lucille Ball, star of "I Love Lucy," puffing away on the television screens in our living rooms. And courtroom hero Perry Mason was never frowned upon when he lit up.
I was a nonsmoker in the fall of 1948 when I headed for the University of Washington. The UW was bursting at the seams with a student body of about 16,000, swelled by a number of World War II veterans, many of them smokers.
Fresh out of Mount Vernon High School and a graduating class of 103, I felt like the naive country girl I was. Money saved from working in the bulb fields in Skagit County during summer vacations had provided me with the right saddle shoes and penny loafers from Nordstrom (then strictly a shoe store), cashmere Pringle sweaters (purchased in Canada for about $16 apiece), and long, pleated Pendleton skirts.
But I felt different from the "big-city girls," particularly those graduates from Roosevelt High School. Those "Roosevelt girls" looked a certain way, talked a certain way and laughed a certain way. They were my idea of chic sophistication. And, a lot of them smoked!
I practiced; oh, how I practiced, in front of a mirror, sometimes coughing and gasping, until I felt I could smoke without looking like a novice. I switched brands until I found the one I liked best. A lot of my friends smoked, too. Lunchtime and between-class breaks found us gathered around the bridge table puffing away until the air turned blue.
My future husband, Rollie, then a Husky football player, was the only one to give me a bad time. An avid nonsmoker, he would throw my cigarette packs out of the car window on our dates. But he, too, became a smoker while spending long, boring hours in a foxhole in Korea.
No one worried about health. That smoking could harm you was not even considered until 1964 when Surgeon General Luther Terry decreed that a warning - that cigarette smoking may be dangerous to your health - be printed on cigarette packages. Although some of my friends quit smoking then, I didn't really take it seriously. I did switch to a brand with filters when they came out.
As the years went by, more and more warnings about the dangers of cigarette smoking came out and more restrictions were placed on smoking in public places and businesses.
I kept on smoking.
At work, when I was writing a story, I thought I had to have a cigarette going. I lit up whenever I talked on the telephone. As soon as I finished a meal, I took out my cigarettes. I wasn't alone. At fashion openings that I covered in New York and Paris, the air was heavy with smoke.
My husband died of malignant lymphoma, cancer of the lymph glands, at 48. His brother died of pancreatic cancer at the same age. Both had smoked for years. And while there's no proof their deaths were smoking-related, now I feel they were.
But I kept on smoking.
One winter about nine years ago I had pneumonia and the doctor told me firmly to quit smoking. I cut down for a while, but before long was back up to the same old two packs a day.
What finally made me decide to quit?
The Times placed a ban on smoking in the building. I decided that in the long run, I would suffer more by not being able to smoke at my desk when I wanted to than by giving it up altogether.
It wasn't easy. My doctor prescribed Nicorettes, a chewing gum containing nicotine, to wean me from the habit. I gave myself a deadline of Aug. 5, 1984, the day before the smoking ban at work was to take effect.
I had my last cigarette at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. I was sitting in my favorite chair and remember the feeling as I slowly stubbed my cigarette out in a glass ashtray monogramed with my initials. I felt like I was saying goodbye to a good friend.
I wasn't sure I could make it through the first day, but when I had, I knew I could quit. I gave away all of the cigarettes in my house and cleaned out my car to get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke.
The first few days were a blur. I was working on a fall-fashion section and I can remember sitting at the computer staring blankly at the screen and thinking, "How can I get through this?"
Now I wonder how I ever stood that smell of cigarette smoke that permeates a smoker's hair and clothing. If I spend much time in the company of smokers, I feel the odor clinging to me.
Most of my friends no longer smoke. But I feel absolutely awful when I see the number of teenagers, particularly girls, who are blithely lighting up.
I feel like saying, "Hey, do you know what you are doing?" I know it would get no more response than I would have given a nonsmoker in my smoking days.
Negative feelings about smoking go back a long way now. In 1979, The Times came out with a big, slick fashion section.My picture, with cigarette in hand, ran with a story asking readers for their definition of style.
Several readers wrote in saying, "Marilyn, smoking isn't style."
There's no glamour left to smoking. I feel sorry for those who have tried to quit and can't. Those workers huddled outside their office buildings puffing away don't look so chic and sophisticated anymore.
I'm not blaming anyone else for my predicament. Whenever I feel sorry for myself, I tell myself there were 20 years of warnings before I finally quit.
But I sure agree with those readers: "Smoking isn't style."
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