It wasn?t always like that. I met Ellie in 1983. We were working for the Department of Agriculture. She was a grizzled veteran. I was a new kid, straight out of college. I was precocious, blustery, and full of ideas and passions. In short, I was a challenge to deal with. Still, Ellie took me under her wing. She helped nurture my beliefs, encouraged me to stand for what I believe in as long as it was moral, ethical and legal. She always managed to nudge me toward the pragmatic side of things. Philosophies were evolving good and well, she felt. But ideas in a vacuum were never great. The measure of an idea, then, was what it enabled you to accomplish. She gently implored me to contend my passions with the reality of a situation, with common sense. She helped me hone my writing skills, introduced me to people, and kept me focused. What she was trying to tell me, often with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, was that discipline was inextricably linked to survival.
I have a friend who is going through the same thing. His father recently had a stroke. He smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for forty years. The doctor told him this had to end. For a while it did. But slowly he began to smoke again. His family implored him to stop. It did not matter. Every morning he would sit at the dining room table, a cigarette in his trembling hands, puffing away. His family worries that he may relapse. But he does not stop.
He is not unlike millions of Americans who disregard the medical warnings and their long term health for a quick nicotine fix. Or, as Robert Califf of the Duke University Medical Center's Division of Cardiology put it, ?smoking represents a decision to trade off a short-term, self-perceived, improved quality of life for a higher long-term risk of death and disability." Most people engaging in this quick fix are unable or unwilling to conceptualize the long term damage that they?re doing to their health. Then there?s the addiction. We now know nicotine is a highly addictive substance that locks into your brain synapses and, over time, supplements physical cravings for nicotine with what Dr. Califf termed, ?unalterable physiological urges."
And indeed it is. This is why countless smokers continue to lazily puff away, taking deep inhalations of death. How sad.