By BOB PALMER
Thompson shook my shoulder. I rolled over, pulled the pack of cigarettes from my shirt pocket and nodded. It was 4 a.m., my turn on guard. I pulled the poncho over my head, thumbed my Zippo and lit the Marlboro between my lips.
I lay still for a moment dragging on the fag cupped in my hand while I listened to the pre-dawn darkness. A monkey chattered in a distant tree while I embraced the sound of the South China Sea’s gentle waves lapping at the beach where my armored cavalry platoon spent the night.
The nicotine hit my brain and I was fully awake. We were only a few miles from a village called Mi Lai, but our defensive position looked good. I rolled off the stretcher that had served as my bed and climbed on top of the armored personnel carrier.
Of course, the lighter trashed my “night vision.” I would learn later my morning smoke cost me more than Ninja eyes. My love affair of cigarettes ran the usual course. It began as an effort to look cool then morphed into addiction. By the time I was able to quit smoking, we pretty well hated each other.
While I am not one of those former smokers who requires everyone within 10 miles of me to extinguish their Camel, I do think the more we, as a society, do to discourage smoking, the better, particularly when it comes to kids. At first “vaping” seemed to be a reasonable alternative to smoking. The smoker got a nicotine hit and those around did not have to eat second-hand smoke. Smokers and non-smokers could co-exist.
Then came flavors. Then came kids. You don’t have to have a medical degree to understand that this is not good.
“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said in a statement last week. Gottlieb noted e-cigarette use jumped 78 percent this year in high school kids and 48 percent among middle school kids. Gottlieb cited new survey data.
The FDA proposes to ban menthol from regular cigarettes, outlaw flavors in all cigars and tighten rules governing the sale of most flavored versions of electronic cigarettes. The restrictions are aimed mainly at reducing smoking in kids: About half of teens who smoke cigarettes choose menthols, and flavored e-cigarettes have been blamed for a recent increase in teen vaping rates.
With nearly a half-million smoking related deaths each year in the United States, smoking is clearly a health problem. If you think you are one of the lucky ones who will not suffer consequences from smoking, you are fooling yourself.
Thankfully, for me, the consequences were not lung cancer or COPD. When I pulled that pack of cigarettes the U.S. Army had thoughtfully provided me out of my pocket, I drug my new Rolex watch with the busted clasp out, as well. In the dark, the watch fell into the sand where it became, I assume, a buried treasure to be discovered by some future eco-tourist.
Smoking costs all of us. Smokers pay up front. The rest pay through taxes and insurance rates for their medical treatment later. Making it more difficult or less pleasant for kids to start vaping or smoking makes sense.
It’s like what Thompson told me that morning as he touched my shoulder.
“Time to wake up.”
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