As a child, I tried to practice safe smoking


When I grow up, I want to smoke like that.

The first time I smoked a cigarette, I inhaled. After I stopped coughing and wiped the tears from my eyes, I inhaled again. That’s what seven-year-old children do. Or at least, that’s what my seven-year-old self did. I have a strong compulsion to finish what I start; something I learned at the dinner table. (See here for that story.) Some people think I am persistent; some think I am stupid. I try to see both sides of an issue, so I agree with both.

Although I received a 25-cent weekly allowance, it didn’t usually last very long. To feed our addiction to chocolate, my best friend, Terry B., and I collected coke bottles to redeem for cash. At one or two cents a bottle, we needed just a few to buy a five-cent candy bar. That’s why I cannot speak too highly of chocolate; it made me the recycler that I am today. Persistent, with fluffy hips.

Terry and I were regulars at the local convenience store. I think it was a 7-Eleven, but it could have been a Circle-K. (Ask my sister, she’s the keeper of memories in the family.) At some point, we decided to buy some cigarettes. As impossible as it sounds today, back then children could run to the store to buy cigarettes for their folks. We either pooled our allowances or saved up coke bottle money because we had enough money for a pack. At that time, probably around 25 cents.

One of us lied to the clerk and said the cigarettes were for a parent. I think it was Terry because this is my side of the story and she’s not here to contradict me. She brought the matches and we headed straight for the ditch.

In mid-century America, everyone smoked cigarettes. Movie stars inhaled and exhaled their glamour, neighborhood gossip flamed up as their small fires burned on women’s lips, and their smoke rings floated above our heads like forgotten halos. What was not to like about smoking?

At some point in that ditch, however, I stopped inhaling and put the cigarette out. I much preferred chocolate and still do.

Unprompted, I confessed to my mother that I had tried smoking. The business about how we got the cigarettes was left unmentioned. She seemed unfazed and only smiled when I said, “Don’t worry. It was mentholated.” In my muddled mind, I thought it made a difference.

At 17, I began my five-year smoking career. My father was long dead by then, and mother said she would rather have me smoke in front of her than behind her back. In mother’s muddled mind, she thought that made a difference.

For several years in a row, I got a carton of Winston cigarettes in my Christmas stocking: my reward for being an honest child. Had I shown an honest interest in bank robbery, she probably would have included a stocking cap and possibly a small revolver.

Mother was muddled but she meant well. Like me. And maybe, like you.

(picture on loan from:

26 thoughts on “As a child, I tried to practice safe smoking

  1. I remember going to the store to get cigarettes for my step-dad as a child. I also remember my first cigarette (I was much older – 17 I think) Unfortunately, I liked it very much. I’ve long since quit, and for that I am thankful.

  2. I never smoked (they gave me headaches) but my best friend did. I remember when I was 14 or 15 sitting at her kitchen table with her and her mother smoking up a storm, stinking up my clothes! She was a huge smoker and now they are both gone.

  3. My stepmother encouraged me to light her cigarettes starting when I was about eight. I took it up full-time as a college freshman. Quit at 30 because a pack cost 35 cents and I wanted a new dining table. I promised to use the cigarette money to pay off the table. My husband told me to buy the table, but he was sure I couldn’t quit since I had tried so many times. So…I set my pack down, and for one year when I wanted a cigarette, I remembered my promise and his response. Bullheadedness works for me. Often.

  4. I was a young teenager in the late-seventies in Britain and packets of cigarettes were available for purchase in vending machines. What were they thinking? They knew what they were thinking!

    Myself and a friend bought a packet of twenty – we were optimistic! I though despite my best efforts was unable to inhale. I was later to discover that my inability to inhale smoke was not just limited to cigarrettes – but think we had better leave it at that!

    • We had cigarette vending machines here in the U.S., too. I don’t know if we have any now, but they do in Japan. It’s good that you didn’t/couldn’t inhale any kind of cigarette. In fact, it’s very presidential. When asked if he ever smoked marijuana, former president Bill Clinton, said he did but that he didn’t inhale.

  5. Ahahah 😀 The mischief just goes on and on with you! I was adamant that I would never smoke and only did for the first time when I was seventeen. I didn’t really like it and I hate cigarette smoke being on me or around me (it depends on the brand, actually). Now, I am partial to the odd cigarette but very infrequently: maybe once or twice a month?

    I don’t understand chain smoking, not because I’m repulsed, just because I don’t see how anyone could enjoy it, but each to their own, I’m not one to judge in this matter :>.

    Cigarettes are all good by me if they’re used responsibly.

    Also, I wish this day and age was like back then – not that I was alive to see it, sadly. I do feel that I was born awfully out of my time D:

    • I do think you are a bit of an old soul for such a young person, but I mean it as a compliment. Your writing reveals a lot about you, and I think you are very smart, with a wonderfully developed sense of humor. Glad that you have the upper hand with the smoking.

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