This "Made for Living" column was written for publication on
January 13, 1983, focusing on an issue which was, in those
days, only beginning to surface in the public consciousness.
In the intervening years, much has changed for many of the
reasons set forward here.
It was nineteen years ago this week that the Surgeon General of the
United States first issued his statement about the dangers of cigarette
smoking; nineteen years since we were first made aware of the direct
connection between smoking and cancer, lung disease, and heart disease.
And just last year, the new Surgeon General made the statement that
smoking is "the chief preventable cause of death in this country." And
yet, everywhere I go, people are smoking at what seems to be an alarming
I must admit to a certain negative bias since I have never been a smoker.
And I also confess a growing resentment of this habit which not only
affects the practitioner, but also those around him (or her). I cannot
recount the number of times a lovely dinner at a restaurant has been
marred by the drifting smoke from the cigarette-smoker at a nearby
table. Or the times I have curtailed a trip to the supermarket because
of the pervasive odor of either a cigarette or a cigar has removed all
desire to complete my task, playing havoc with my sensitive sinuses.
And I must also admit a certain lack of understanding about subjecting
the body to something which is so obviously harmful and possibly
debilitating. Women who smoke during pregnancy have a much higher
risk of having a premature infant who has breathing problems at birth.
Babies of smokers are generally much smaller, including the size of
the head. And children of smokers have a much higher incidence of
upper respiratory diseases during childhood, including asthma and
later respiratory diseases. The smokers themselves are risking a greatly
increased chance of cancer of the lungs and pancreas, emphysema, heart
disease- all diseases which debilitate and kill, putting a tremendous
burden on the family as well as on society as a whole.
Centuries ago, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth,
wrote these words: Do you not know that your body is a shrine of the
indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is God's gift to you? You do not
belong to yourselves; you were bought at a price. Then honor God
in your body. And with these words, we were given the responsibility
for the thoughtful and serious use of our bodies, as glorious gifts from
God, not really ours but His; not simply the dwelling place we inhabit
during our earthly stay, but temples in which the Spirit of God makes
a home: special, unique, precious, not to be handled with disrespect
but with care and love and responsibility.
The very best statement I have ever read about the rights of smokers
and non-smokers appeared in an Ann Landers column several years ago.
I clipped and saved it because it expressed my feelings on the subject
so well. The words are those of the author, Dr. Isaac Asimov, in an
editorial for Cancer News. I share them with you in the hope that they
will provoke discussion and a sense of responsibility.
"I do not object to a person's private vices if he has been told the
consequences and decides that the game is worth the outcome.
However, they have to be PRIVATE. If he wants to use heroin, it's not
my body that suffers the bad effects. If he wants to drink and ruin
his liver, it is his liver to ruin, and none of the alcohol gets into my
blood. (Of course, once he gets behind the wheel of the car, his vice is
no longer private.)
"When someone smokes in my presence, however, his vice is not
private. His foul emanations find their way into my lungs and blood-
stream. His stench becomes my stench and clings to me. And he raises
my chance of heart disease and lung cancer. Let him (or her) smoke,
by all means, but only in private or in the company of those who do
not object. I would not deprive any person of lung cancer if he wants
it. I just want to avoid it myself.
"If he feels he must smoke and that by objecting I am depriving him
of his freedom, then would he be willing to bear with me if I feel I
MUST kick him in the groin, and that by objecting, he would deprive
me of MY freedom?
"Let's put it this way: your freedom to smoke ends where my lungs begin."
Take a deep breath; enjoy every moment; and have a beautiful, fresh,