Thursday, January 28, 2021

I live in a little bubble where it's easy to forget there are still people who smoke

Like many people of my generation, I grew up in a house where both parents smoked. That was just kind of the way it was. Many teachers smoked, store clerks smoked, and even your little league coaches smoked. It seemed like most adults smoked.

There was never actually a time, though, when "most" U.S. adults smoked. The peak year for American smoking, according to several sources, was 1965, when a reported 45% of Americans 18 or older were regular smokers. That figure has since fallen to about 14% as of 2019.

By all accounts, that's a good thing. Smoking remains "the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common sense tells you it's simply not a good thing to do to your body.

(I do, however, still love the quote from Ricky Romano, a neighborhood kid with whom I grew up who seemingly smoked from the time he was in early elementary school. When my friend Kevin said to him, "Hey, Rick, smoking causes cancer," Rick calmly replied, "Ice cubes cause cancer.")

Still, 14% of U.S. adults is a lot of people, something along the lines of 34 million individuals. And the thing is, I rarely see any of them actually doing it.

I work for a non-smoking company, so there aren't people standing outside of our buildings puffing away (though a few do congregate across the street to light up). No one in my family smokes, thankfully. And with most indoor public spaces now designated as no smoking areas, it's not like it used to be in the 70s when housewives would smoke while pushing their carts up and down the aisles of grocery stores.

The effect is that, when I see someone smoking or smell it as a car passes by, it takes me by surprise for a split second. There's a part of me that wonders every time, "Wait, what's going on?" Then my brain flashes back to 1981 and I realize what's happening. "Oh, he's smoking. That's right! That's still a thing!"

The point, I guess, is it's amazing how different the world is today, and how insulated our individual existences can be that we forget people still engage in an activity we associate with the distant past.

This is one of the few times that I'm mostly grateful for my sheltered life.

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