Connections: Smoke Signals

The research is pretty clear that every year without a cigarette improves your chances at longevity

    The surgeon general’s first report on how bad smoking is for the human body came out on Jan. 11, 1964. Fifty years later — perhaps in connection with the report’s anniversary? — CVS Caremark, the huge drugstore chain that has a branch in East Hampton, announced on Feb. 6 that it would no longer sell tobacco products. When I read the news I let out an audible hooray.

    I’ve always been particularly down on cigarettes, among all the many things that are bad for you. (Clearly bacon and Häagen-Dazs don’t do a body any favors, either, but — despite our culture’s current bacon-obsession zeitgeist — I don’t believe they are quite as addictive, or pernicious.)

    Spurred by the CVS announcement, I went to The Star’s archive of old newspaper clippings this week to see if I could find an antismoking column I wrote years ago. There in the file drawer it was: “Connections” from the edition of Nov. 20, 1980.

    Noting that it was Great American Smokeout Day, a designation adopted in 1977 by the American Cancer Society, I wrote about one of my childhood friends, who had become a smoker at the grand old age of 11.

    We still had smokers on staff here at The Star in 1980, and they would have been surprised and offended if anyone had asked them to take it outside. Your only recourse in those days, really, was nagging: “Stop smoking!” I said to a colleague, without looking up from my typewriter, as the aroma of tobacco filled the newsroom air.

    Back then, newspapers, including small ones like The Star, often carried cigarette advertising, but I had banned it that year after my husband, Ev Rattray, who became the editor of The Star in 1958, died of cancer. I wrote that Ev had given up smoking a decade before the disease appeared and that he had asked one of his doctors whether that was ironic: giving up smoking and still getting cancer. In my column, I quoted the doctor’s reply: “The evidence is mounting. Perhaps in giving up smoking 10 years ago, you actually slowed the growth of the cancer and, in fact, extended your life.”

    I didn’t know then whether the doctor was speaking honestly or just being nice, but I took to heart what he said. Today, I believe, the research is pretty clear that every year without a cigarette improves your chances at longevity.

    The Star’s ban on cigarette advertising didn’t mean much to our bottom line, I must admit, and I don’t know if readers were even aware of the gesture. The money we may have given up would have been relatively paltry — infinitesimal in comparison to the $2 billion in sales that CVS has estimated it will lose.

    Nevertheless, I feel, retrospectively, that it was clearly the right move. What else can we do? “Brighten the corner where you are,” as the saying goes. And if that doesn’t work, try nagging.