Back when I was a kid — probably 10 years old or so — I used to hang out with Dad at his office on Saturdays.
Newspaper work was never a five-day job, then or now.
Every so often, he would give me a quarter (or maybe it was a half-dollar) to go across the street to the news stand and buy him a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Today, that would violate anti-smoking laws throughout the land, but in those days, it was just assumed that a little kid buying a pack of cigarettes was getting them for his parents.
Smoking by teenagers was a rare show of youthful rebellion, and was even frowned on by their peers.
There was a little discussion of health consequences of smoking, but the cigarette manufacturers maintained that any apparent link between smoking and illness was coincidental, and smokers and lawmakers were satisfied with that explanation.
One day, I asked Dad if I could take a puff on his cigarette. He glanced over at Mother, and after a moment’s hesitation, said “yes.” It was one of the smartest decisions he ever made.
I sucked on that cigarette like it was a soda straw in a milk shake. One such puff created a lasting memory which served to eliminate all interest in cigarettes. It seemed like I would never stop coughing.
When the Surgeon General’s Report made the uncompromising finding that smoking caused cancer, both my parents put ‘em down and never smoked again.
Dad, whose father kept a cigar in his mouth every waking hour and died of throat cancer in his 70s, lived until three months short of his 90th birthday.
Today, a new but comparable health risk has taken the form of e-cigarettes, more commonly known as vaping.
Tobacco Free Polk, a smoking-cessation organization, reports that one-in-eight middle school and high school students in Polk County acknowledges using e-cigarettes.
Jessica Napoleon, an anti-smoking advocate with Tobacco Free Florida, spoke to a civic club a few weeks ago. She said e-cigarettes initially were represented as alternative smoking devices for adults, but it didn’t turn out that way.
She said that while long-term health consequences of vaping are not yet known, vaping devices can be — and are — used to deliver much higher doses of nicotine than conventional cigarettes.
Vaping products come in an estimated 15,000 flavors, she said, effectively masking the harsh flavor of nicotine and increasing their appeal to children.
Vaping devices are disguised as ball point pens, computer thumb drives and other mechanisms that hide their purpose.
Federal law establishes a minimum age of 21 for purchase of both tobacco and vaping products. Enforcement is problematic.
There are more than 720 licensed tobacco retailers in Polk County, and there are only two enforcement officers monitoring compliance in nine Central Florida counties, including Polk.
But unlike cigarette retailers, “vape shops” do not require similar licenses in Polk.
Like the cigarettes my parents smoked more than 70 years ago, the full consequences of today’s e-cigarettes have not been fully determined.
But it stands to reason that devices designed to deliver to teenagers high doses of flavored nicotine, not to mention other harmful substances, hardly sound like healthy products.
(S.L. Frisbie is retired. One of the most vivid memories of his childhood was that puff his father let him take on a cigarette. He has never again had a desire to smoke from that day to this.)