This article appears in the January issue of JAAPA.
That distinctive bulge under my rolled-up T-shirt sleeve was a badge of honor, membership in coolness. Old Gold Straights: “Not a cough in a carload. Made by tobacco men, not medicine men.” I was smoking a half a pack a day. I was 14 years old.
1951, my second year of high school. Gas was 19 cents a gallon, a Mexican chemist invented the first contraceptive pill, and a TV favorite, “Stop the Music,” hosted by Bert Parks, sported live dancing Old Gold cigarette packs with beautiful female legs tapping away, making my brand attractive and sexy. How cool was that?
Like my bar mitzvah, smoking was considered a rite of passage, even by my parents. I was never encouraged to smoke, nor was I lectured on the evils of the habit. Fourteen was a bit young, but there were worse things.
In February 2016, I will turn 80. I have smoked, on average, a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 50 of those years; 360,500 cigarettes, lit and inhaled in a lifetime.
Current stats: Smoking is responsible for 87% of lung cancers in the United States. The odds of a 50 pack-year guy like me developing it are 23 times higher than for the guy who never smoked. I tried to quit a dozen times and failed. Then, in 1986, something unexpected happened.
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