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Smoking Kills or So they Say…
American journalist Edward R. Murrow (1908 - 1965) lights a cigarette for American actress Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) during an interview for the TV series 'Person to Person,' April 1, 1955. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Back in the 1970’s, my father would send me to the store with 75 cents to get cigarettes with a note, “Please sell Danny Starling a package of Winston 100’s”. I’d happily skip down to the corner store in Shawnee, Kan., hand over my handwritten pass to purchase underage smokes to the guy at the counter, who would slide a fresh pack over the counter to an eight year old. I didn’t smoke them, but I got to spend the nickel change on bubble gum or baseball cards or whatever candy I could get.

Little did I know that was sowing seeds of one of the greatest sorrows of my life; my father would die a few years later of complications from lung cancer. He had grown up in a time when cigarettes were cheap and plentiful. When doctors said they were good for you and the Army used to put cartons of smokes in the rations of soldiers going off to war. Smoking was glamorized and was acceptable in all public places becoming a symbol of independence and sophistication around the world.

I tried my first cigarette when I was around 12 years old and had become a pack-and-a half-a-day smoker by the time I was 24 years old. I’m still smoking tobacco, but a lot less—a couple a day. This change in behavior was brought on two things: the soaring cost of smokes, and the fact that I now find myself hardly able to finish one cigarette before I toss it in the gutter.

Pretty much everyone in my immediate family smokes, all my four brothers, my sister, several of my nieces and nephews. My mother has emphysema from years of smoking and can’t seem to kick the habit. She has tried everything. The patch, the gum, hypnosis, cold turkey, tons of candy, nothing seems to keep her from getting up at 5 a.m. and smoking the cheapest smoke she can find before going back to sleep for a few hours.

I used to battle with her constantly about quitting and, to her credit, she has made efforts to stop. She would get annoyed and tell me that my nagging actually caused here to smoke more. I just stopped harping on her about it. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks as they say, and you can’t stop anybody from doing anything if they are hell bent on it.

I got a call the other day from my second oldest brother, who is the battle of his life against advanced lung cancer. He hadn’t smoked since he was in the Army in Vietnam but told me that a few years back he began to smoke again recreationally. Although he didn’t believe that was the main factor--he worked as an aircraft machinist for years before becoming white collar--it’s hard to stare down the facts without a shudder.

Recently, a Kansas City friend said she went into a well-known midtown establishment for a few drinks. She was speaking with the owner, who she’d gotten to be friendly with during infrequent visits to the bar, and noticed everyone around her smoking. A casual smoker herself, she asked the owner—who was also smoking behind the bar--if it was okay to smoke, knowing about the smoking ban.

“No. It’s illegal to smoke in here,” the owner replied stoically with a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Perplexed she looked around at the happy patrons smoking away, with ashtrays about and the air filled with second hand smoke. When asked what she did, she replied, “Well I figured it must be okay and I enjoyed a cigarette at the bar.”

I explained to her the vagaries of the ban’s enforcement—proven to be laughable--and the continued battle by long-time smoking establishments in Kansas City, MO., to continue to allow their customers to light up.

Those days might be coming to end with a Missouri Court of Appeals ruling upholding Kansas City’s recently adopted smoking ban that covers bars, restaurants, taverns and billiards halls seating less than 50 people.

It is a defeat for business owners who want to cater to adults wanting to smoke while they drink and a victory for the pro-family, health nut crowd that are deathly afraid of second-hand smoke.

The lawyers for the pro-choice smoking lobby plan to appeal the current law as being incompatible with previously existing state law that they believe holds jurisdiction over the regulation of smoking in these small local establishments. They hope the Missouri State Supreme Court will hear the case and overturn the smoking ban in favor of the less restrictive Missouri State Law.

I personally would like to see people have a choice. Cigarettes are legal. People who smoke should not be relegated to second-class citizenship and not permitted to have establishments where smoking is allowed. Kansas City has always had a do-gooder streak that has been preaching and moralizing since the days of Prohibition about the evils of drinking, smoking and gambling—all legal—and has so many petty offenses that very few are every really enforced.

As I mentioned before, smoking has obvious health risks and has a great impact on my family and me personally. This having been said, I also know that when smoking is outlawed, only outlaws will smoke. Making laws has never stopped any American from doing what he or she thought was a God given right: The right to choose his or her own lifestyle. The smokers will continue to smoke either inside or outside the bars and restaurants around town.

If the current ban is struck down on appeal, lawmakers should compromise with local business owners who want to allow their customers to smoke inside their establishments and warn all others who want to avoid second hand smoke beforehand.

Customers will still have a choice to stay or leave. Warning: Smoking Kills. Breathe at your own risk!

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