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Don’t ever smoke, don’t ever chew, / Don’t ever go with girls that do.

So is it natural to crush the leaf of a noxious weed, roll it up, poke it in your mouth, and light it on fire?

Why do I care so much when nobody else seems to? Not only do I miss those near and dear who have already smoked themselves to death, but it struck very close to home in recent days. There was a kid who was my co-driver in the years I drove a big rig, a very good co-driver. But his habit was intolerable. I couldn’t stand for him to smoke in the cab so we had to pull over frequently for him to hang on the fender and satisfy his craving. He was proud of all this. In fact, his CB handle was “Smokey Joe.”

He would be 50 or so now and I hadn’t seen him in many years. I chanced to run into his mother recently. She reported that he is an invalid, bedridden actually, awaiting the amputation of a leg.

There but for the grace of God... I was a pack-a-day man in the second grade until my habit came to an abrupt halt. Mom caught me. I was lucky. She had never heard of the word of wisdom but her maternal instincts went far beyond the knowledge of the day. Back then, until the surgeon general put a stop to it, cigarette companies were taking out beautiful full page ads in popular magazines. There medical professionals promoted the health benefits of certain brands over others.

I was once among hundreds of Marines, tough guys all, who were herded into the base theater so the battalion doctor could address us. It was part of a beautifully conceived, but utterly futile concept of a smoke free military.

He railed against tobacco for most of an hour. Then he asked for a show of hands of those who were smokers. Nearly every one raised their hand, including him, holding up a pack of smokes that he fished out of his shirt pocket. When he asked for a show of hands of those who were not able to quit, the same hands went up, his too.

If that presentation did any good I never knew of it. I thought back to the traumatic anti-smoking lecture I had heard in second grade, with an angry mom in my face. If I could have brought her there, |’l| bet all of them would have quit, to a man.

Must I tolerate all of this in silence? Big tobacco has got to be made to know that they have made a powerful enemy out here in the Intermountain West — nameIy me. What to do?

Assemble some like-minded folks, go back east and riot in front of a tobacco factory until they have to call out the National Guard? That would sure get some publicity but there has to be a better way.

Then it came to me as I drove by a high school. There were kids out there, off campus, trying hard to addict themselves. A whole new crop of smokers to replace the die off. Job security for the purveyors of human misery.

I will assemble a team of derelicts, buy a van, paint it with anti-smoking graffiti, and go on a tour of the schools.

This is not a freak show. It is not intended to be funny.

How I wish Mom was still around; I would have her open the program.

Instead it starts with me pushing Smokey Joe in his wheelchair.

The next will be what I call the “say goodbye to that pretty face” crowd. They are everywhere and they grieve me.

Once beautiful girls, reeking of tobacco, puffing away, the sad effects of nicotine poisoning already on their countenances, prematurely old.

Enter the third member of the team, also common, pushing an oxygen bottle on wheels connected to a hose up his nose. He will be gasping for air like a fish out of water. His lungs, already badly damaged, still calling for more smoke.

The next type may be a little harder to find, but they are out there. Cancer sometimes attacks the voicebox, or larynx. For some reason surgeons cannot replumb the windpipe after removing that part of the anatomy, so the victim can no longer use his nose as a chimney. A hole is made in the throat, called a stoma, it is supposed to be for breathing but by using a pin one can put a cigarette in there and get a few drags. And of course without a voicebox one cannot speak. Not a problem. Using an electronic duck call pressed to the throat he can talk almost intelligibly. “Quack, quack.” The kids are going to love this.

The last member of the team will be led in by a dog. “Is this way cool students? The beauty of tobacco is that you don’t have to smoke yourself to death but have the option of smoking yourself blind.”

Wish me well.

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