Friday, October 24, 2014

I’d walk a mile for a Camel. And you might have to if you worked for RJR.

I am old enough to remember when most people smoked.

My father smoked, as did all of my uncles.

My father had stopped smoking for a long while, but I distinctly remember a Labor Day cookout – late 1950’s, well before the Surgeon General’s Report that finally linked smoking and cancer – when, at the urging of my father’s buddies, he took up smoking again. “Hey, Al, just have one. Just to be social.”

In retrospect, it was kind of like pushing a drink on an AA member, and it was enough to start my father smoking again, which he did for another decade or so. (He quit for the final time when he became ill with kidney disease, which is what killed him. He never developed any lung problems that I know of, but smoking sure didn’t help him out any. When he was on his death bed, he had to ask my Uncle Charlie not to smoke in his hospital room, as it really bothered him. Just the idea of someone smoking in a hospital room…unimaginable today.)

There was one upside to my father’s smoking: we always knew what to give him for Christmas: an ashtray, a carton of Luckies (later, Marlboros).

There was less smoking on the female side of the equation, but my mother had a couple of friends who were smokers: Jane, Dodo, Marge, Sue - and the lipstick marks on their cigarette butts always intrigued me. The women who smoked made smoking, and adult life, seem dangerous, sexy, glamorous. All the things my mother wasn’t.

I was never much of a smoker myself.

I did smoke when I was a waitress at Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park, as all “the girls” did. Taking a cigarette break was something of a sacred, inviolable ritual. If you were staring out into space for a couple of minutes, the head waitress could holler at you to come do something or other: restock the napkins, help bus a table. But if you were smoking – a defined break of three minutes – you could holler back “Just let me finish my fucking cigarette”. And that was good enough.

My roommate and a couple of our fellow waitress buddies (Marilyn and Pam) would stow packs of Newports or Marlboros in a cubbyhole between dining rooms, shared packs. I don’t remember how we replenished our supply- we must have taken turns buying – but we always had some smokes on hand.

For a couple of years after my waitress days ended, I smoked occasionally, mostly if I were out on the town having drinks with friends, or at a party. Wherever two or more smokers were gathered, I’d have a cigarette.

After I stopped entirely – when I finished B-school – it was a couple of years before I lost the urge entirely.

I’d never been a heavy smoker to begin with, so I can imagine just how addictive cigarettes can be.

While my smoking life was playing out, fewer and fewer people smoked, and there were fewer and fewer places where folks could smoke.

At first, the smokers were separated off.

But as anyone who sat in the row in back of the smoking section on an airplane could tell you, that – cough, cough – didn’t work.

Nor did it work to have a smoking section in a restaurant that wasn’t totally walled off from the non-smokers. Half the time, you’d be sitting in non-smoking at a table next to one with smokers. (I always liked it when it was a mixed group of smokers and non-smokers, and the smokers would blow their smoke your way to keep it out of the nostrils and lungs of their dining companions.)

Over time, we started to take it for granted that there’d be no one smoking on public transportation, in restaurants, bars, and theaters – at least around here.

Once, while on business travel, my flight was diverted from Charlotte to Winston-Salem, and I was stuck in a waiting room for a couple of hours while a storm passed. And I do mean stuck. The security people had already left for the day, so we could not leave the waiting area and, say, go out and take a breath of springtime.

And if you think that the Winston-Salem airport had any non-smoking section in its waiting area, you are most certainly mistaken.

Once I began my business career, I don’t remember much smoking in the office, but there must have been some going on. The first company I worked for after B-school held a wine, beer, and junk food party after work every Friday, and some people smoked grass. So I’m guessing folks also smoked cigarettes.

At Wang, there were smoking rooms on each floor, where the smoking cubicle-denizens could puff away. If you had a closed door office, you were allowed to smoke in it.

But over time these sorts of accommodations to smokers gradually gave way to forcing smokers to stand 15 feet away from the entrance to the building when they wanted a cig. Nowadays, you don’t even see all that much of that activity. (Although on occasion, when walking by my brother’s office – he works not far from where I live – I run across him standing in front of his building having a smoke. Honestly, how someone as intelligent as my brother can continue to smoke…Wow. Just wow.)

There have apparently been hold-out office environments where smoking is still tolerated.

And one of them, up until now, has been R J Reynolds or, as they are now known, Reynolds American.

But come the first of the year, even they won’t be allowing smoking at work.

Camel cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc. is snuffing out smoking in its offices and buildings.

Beginning next year, the use of cigarettes, cigars or pipes will no longer be permitted in the company’s offices, conference rooms and elevators. Lighting up already is prohibited on factory floors and in cafeterias. (Source: AP in Huffington Post)

They will be setting up indoor smoking areas, probably like the ghastly ones at Wang back in the day, or like the even more ghastly ones that were in airports for a while. (You didn’t want to walk anywhere near them.)

And Reynolds will still let users of smokeless tobacky products use. So those who want to vape on Reynolds Vuse electronic cigs, or dip into “pouches of tobacco called snus (pronounced “snoose”) will still be okay.

But I guess all those sons and daughters of Reynolds employees will have to come up with something else to give Dad for Christmas. A carton of Camels won’t do.

Maybe a few packets of chewing gum?

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