Smokers, Beware

Thanks to Gregory Flannery for a fascinating and beautifully crafted piece ("Why We Smoke," issue of April 11) about the "bright side" of smoking, which is ironically its darkest aspect: the pleasur

Apr 18, 2007 at 2:06 pm

Thanks to Gregory Flannery for a fascinating and beautifully crafted piece ("Why We Smoke," issue of April 11) about the "bright side" of smoking, which is ironically its darkest aspect: the pleasure and the joy of it. As a practicing family physician, I immediately recognized the article as compulsory reading.

I spend so much time telling people not to smoke and precious little understanding why they smoke. A heady draft of nicotine, right from the exhaling horse's mouth, was just what I needed.

Flannery mostly sidestepped the typical anthemizing of the smoking debate and gave us a little seed crystal of reality for us to consider and cultivate. I'd like to do the same, along the medical vector.

What Flannery (and so many other smokers) really can't "grok" is the appalling scope of the physical devastation wrought by tobacco. It is far grislier, and yet much more commonplace, than lay people realize.

Every day I see it: people who can barely move around their houses because of COPD. Patients with tubes down their throats, on ventilators for weeks or months.

Cardiac cripples whose hearts barely beat, headed for their next heart attack or worse. A nice old lady with clogged arteries who is on the surgical schedule next week for a below-the-knee amputation. An old farmer who coughed up a massive volume of blood and died before the first hospital day was out. A 30-year old woman who smoked while on birth control and has lost control of most of her left side from a massive stroke. Limbs rotting, hearts stopping, brains asphyxiating, lungs disintegrating.

This isn't drama. This isn't a "scared straight" program. This is the quotidian reality of every healthcare worker in America. And believe me, it's the prognosis for all but the luckiest smokers.

I could quote a passel of withering statistics to prop up my narrative here, but I'll refrain, save for one: According to the Centers for Disease Control, each of the 22 billion packs of cigarettes smoked in the single year 1999 generated $3.45 in healthcare costs. Do the math, and you'll see it adds up to over $75 billion worth of oxygen tanks, heart bypasses, chemo trials and the rest. The gruesome picture I'm painting is the rule, not the exception.

Finally, a word of thanks for the reference to Bill Hicks, a genius who was as much a philosopher as a comedian. Smoking was indeed a prop in his act and fodder for many of his best bits.

It also struck him down at the top of his game. At the age of 32, Bill succumbed to pancreatic cancer — a disease rarely seen before age 50.

— F. Stuart Leeds MD, Wilmington, Ohio

I'm an Adult
I very much enjoyed reading Gregory Flannery's "Why We Smoke" (issue of April 11). I'm a smoker, and I assert my right to continue despite many people telling me how terrible it is for me.

I'm an adult, and I already know this. Leave me alone already.

I'm convinced my parents had me addicted long before I ever smoked a cigarette at age 18. I loved the smell of their Winstons; never did I think that cigarette smoke stinks. I still don't.

I have a birthday coming up, and my mother and husband are taking me out to dinner for the occasion. They plotted all this behind my back — they're taking me to Northern Kentucky so I can smoke while waiting for dinner. God love the tolerant and thoughtful people!

— Marilyn Schirmer, Hamersville, Ohio

Smoking Is My Choice
Gregory Flannery's "Why We Smoke" (issue of April 11) was like a breath of fresh air in Ohio, where most writers and reporters make the story one-sided. One-sided toward supporters of the draconian Issue 5.

Smoking is a personal choice, just like drinking, sky diving, driving a car or playing a sport — yet the only choice to do as we please is being taken away from the smokers.

The state of Ohio is making people who smoke out to be second-class citizens. I for one refuse to be treated that way. Out of Ohio's 7 million registered voters, only 2.2 million people voted yes for Issue 5. So one-third of the citizens of Ohio get to tell the other two-thirds what they should do and how they should run their business. Don't even get me started on the "level playing field" argument!

So instead of spending money in Ohio for my anniversary next week, I'll be flying to Chicago for the weekend, where they don't have draconian laws regarding smoking. I will stay in a hotel where I can smoke, and I'll be having dinner where I can smoke. Illinois can have my money, not Ohio.

— Debi Kistner, Columbus, Ohio

Smoking Article Was Irresponsible
I was horrified and stupefied by your recent cover story about smoking ("Why We Smoke," issue of April 11), which basically amounted to a verbose but insubstantial defense of smoking. The entire article could have been summed up in three words: "It feels good."

Smoking, as some know, kills roughly 438,000 people per year in the U.S. Lung cancer is the No. 1 killer among cancers, and fully 90 percent of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking. That number doesn't even include the number of people who die from secondhand smoke.

Smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the other top killers in this country. Smokers endanger not only themselves but their children and any one else who happens to breathe their secondhand smoke as well.

Pregnant women who smoke are much more likely to deliver pre-term and low birth-weight babies, who, in turn, are much more likely to die in infancy than other newborns. Parents who smoke predispose their children to asthma and other lung diseases.

Not smoking is probably the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves from premature death and disease. Smoking is no longer hip, cool, sexy or rebellious — it is, quite simply, dangerous and stupid.

This article was irresponsible and misleading. Smoking only feels good after one is addicted and before the dire consequences have begun to take effect.

How sad that Gregory Flannery hoped to live long enough only to see his kids grown; I hope to live to see my grandchildren grown, to help care for them, to do good in the world and to set a good example for others. I was a half-hearted smoker who quit smoking when I got pregnant, and I've never regretted it.

Does CityBeat have no responsibility to promote the health and well-being of its readers and people in general? How about an article on the more salient aspects of this issue, such as the ways in which cigarette manufacturers target young women and men for death through ad campaigns that glamorize smoking and equate it with liberation and self-determination? You can do so much better. I expect so much more from you.

— Amy A. Wakeman

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