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LIFE & TIMES / WENDY MILLER

Giving Smokers Who Quit Credit That's Due

November 17, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Attitudes about smokers and smoking seem to split along generational lines. They also tend to burn hot and messy.

Judging by the crowds hanging outside of nightclubs and by the recent spate of movies starring young actors sporting limp hair, pale skin, black polyester and Marlboros, the under-25 crowd seems to have embraced smoking as a hip form of self-expression--which shouldn't really surprise anyone over 25 who remembers ever having been under 25.

To many members of an older generation, smokers are right up there with the great social pariahs of our time--murderers, rapists and, if you are also an environmentalist, litterers.

And the anti-smoking brigade is a lot meaner than it once was. Ever notice how the once-meek and beleaguered nonsmoker now reacts to a smoker who dares light up in a restaurant, a building, even an open-air venue? It's not a pretty sight. Such aggressive tactics, as well as California's reaction to Proposition 188--the tobacco industry smoke screen that attempted and failed to replace existing smoking controls with less restrictive legislation--have led me to believe that we'll soon be putting referendums on the ballot to make smoking a capital crime.

I'm not suggesting that the crusade of nonsmokers is unfounded. Looking at the latest statistics linking secondary smoke to cancer makes it easy to understand nonsmokers' concerns. It just seems that at times they lose perspective and forget that smokers after all, are people too. Smelly, wheezy people, perhaps, but people nonetheless.

This week's Centerpiece story, which coincides today with the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout, was written by local free-lance writer Rachel Altman, who is sympathetic to smokers and nonsmokers, since she has been both.

In fact, it was a mere two weeks ago that Altman tossed the pack and sought refuge in nicotine patches and a pack of Doublemint. And she chronicled the whole sordid ordeal in the Reluctant Novice column, part of the cover package.

Altman said it was no surprise to find out that many researchers widely regard smoking to be a serious addiction, right up there with drugs and alcoholism.

"Judging by the withdrawal symptoms I experienced myself, I now know what a miserable addiction it is," she said.

"I can understand how nonsmokers feel about the lowly smoker because even when I was smoking, I often hated myself for being at the mercy of such a miserable habit. But it really is a very difficult thing to give up. People deserve credit for being able to pull it off."

Congratulations Rachel. But for the next few months I'd avoid nightclubs, all Generation X movies, white pancake makeup and black polyester. You don't want to take any unnecessary chances.

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