I’m on the road again this week. Chattanooga, then Morristown, then back to Chattanooga. Sunday afternoon, as we were passing through Hendersonville, NC, we stopped to get something to drink at a convenience store. On the counter near the register, there was a covered box with a sign that said, “Individual Cigarettes, 25 cents.”
You have to need a shot of nicotine bad if you can’t afford a whole pack, but will spend one of your last remaining quarters on one. Apparently, there is a market.
Thank God I was never able to cultivate a cigarette habit. I tried once, back in my stupidity-rich twenties when I had several thin friends who smoked and looked sophisticated (right) with a cigarette between their long, fake-nail-tipped fingers. I thought smoking might alleviate some of my stress eating. Fortunately, I despised cigarette smoke too much to make that work for me, and eventually grew out of my idiot phase.
But you know that’s got to be a powerful addition when people in dire straights will spend a quarter for a cigarette when four quarters will get you a hamburger off the Wendy’s value menu.
One of the perks to traveling with Jim is that I get a free USA today delivered to my door every morning. Yesterday, one of the big stories was the case of a janitor in Oregon who died in 1997 after smoking three packs a day for forty years. A jury found that, while he was partly liable for his own death, Jesse Williams was influenced by the decades-long campaign by cigarette manufacturer Phillip Morris to discredit emerging evidence that cigarettes caused lung cancer. The jury awarded his widow $79.5 million in punitive damages. Phillip Morris, naturally, appealed, and the case has made its way to the Supreme Court.
I’m normally an advocate of personal responsibility. I’ve always held the opinion that there’s enough evidence that cigarettes are very, very bad for you, and if you choose to smoke, and you get cancer you have no one to blame but yourself. I also think folks who sue McDonald’s for making unhealthy food are idiots, no offense.
But Jesse Williams didn’t grow up in the same era that I did. He, from all accounts, genuinely believed that “they wouldn’t sell them if they were bad for you.” I hope Mayola Williams gets every dime of that $97.5 million.
And I hope that someone finds a better use for tobacco than smoking it. Because I grew up in North Carolina, where big tobacco lives, and I don’t want to see a lot of folks out of work. But corporations with A-list lobbyists shouldn’t be allowed to put whatever they put in cigarettes that entices people down to their last few dollars to pay a quarter for a cigarette.
Why not just legalize every other addictive, life-destroying substance?
Besides, second-hand smoke gives me a migraine.