By David C. Holzman
More than half a century has passed since Luther Terry released the landmark U.S. surgeon general’s report on smoking and health.
Since then, smoking in the U.S. has declined dramatically. Nonetheless, roughly 50 million Americans still smoke.
Tobacco’s ‘Fantastic Voyage’
If anyone should have been immune to taking up smoking, it was me.
As a prepubescent child, I absorbed the lessons about the importance of living healthily that my parents instilled. At age 10, I got them to quit smoking after the first surgeon general report came out — although I’m sure they would have done it on their own, if not quite as quickly. Early on in my writing career, I wrote a “fantastic voyage” article about all the carcinogens in tobacco, where they went in the body, and what nefarious things they did when they got there. Little did I ever suspect I would become briefly but definitely addicted.
The germ of the habit occurred when I was medical writer for Insight Magazine. Dennis, the head copy editor, smoked like a chimney.
The author, smoking at his sister’s wedding in June 1991 (Photo illustration courtesy of the author)
“How’s that cigarette?” I’d tease him every morning when I arrived at work. “Not long enough!” he’d say. Or, “Not as good as the first one.” It became our way of bonding.
One day he said, “You want to try it?”
Curious, I took a puff. It gave a powerful kick, like a turbocharger. But it was not something I felt I needed.
But one Sunday, a few years later, I needed it. I’d gone to the car races at Summit Point, West Virginia, with my friend, Don, a former racer, and his wife Eva, who smoked. I’d slept little the week before, and D.C., where I lived at the time, was being its usual oppressively hot, humid summer self. By mid-afternoon I’d gotten so sleepy that I was getting ready to curl up in the back of my car and snooze. Then I remembered Dennis’ cigarette. I asked Eva if I could finish one of hers. A couple of puffs, and I was wide awake, once again enjoying being with my friends.
My FDA Cigarette
Around this time, I was working for daily biotech news publication, regularly covering meetings of the Advisory Committee to the head of the Food and Drug Administration. These meetings were boring. They took place in a windowless room of the incredibly ugly, mid-’50s institutional style Parklawn building. As soon as they started, off went the lights, and on went the Powerpoints.
At that point, no matter how much coffee I’d had, my head would start to sag.
So the next time I had to cover one of these meetings, I bummed a cigarette. I took several puffs, and then tossed it. This time, I remained painlessly alert after the lights went out.
I took to bumming cigarettes while I waited for the FDA meetings to start, and ultimately I bought my own pack. Continue reading