She made every holiday special. She would fill Easter baskets with candy, carve pumpkins, make me beautiful Halloween costumes, and spend hours trimming the Christmas tree. And she smoked.
She talked to me, listened to me and encouraged me. She was my best friend. And she smoked.
I don’t have a single memory of my mom that does not include a cigarette in her hand. What is funny, though, is that I never categorized my mother as a smoker. Sure, ashtrays were scattered throughout the house and she never went anywhere without the pack and lighter in her purse. Yet, I don’t recall her ever smelling like cigarettes, not her hair, or breath, or clothes. That has never ceased to amaze me to this day.
My mother began smoking at the age of 13 and continued, even after lung cancer and emphysema, until she died from a stroke in 2009 at the age of 59. I had kissed her goodbye on the Sunday after Christmas and never spoke with or saw her again.
Back in 1963, when my mom had her first cigarette, it was illegal for minors to purchase tobacco. It remains illegal today, but we know kids still somehow manage to smoke, just as my mother did. As I grew up with swirls of Marlboro wafting toward the ceiling, I was relentless in trying to get her to quit. She would ask me, “What do you want for your birthday (or Christmas or graduation), honey?” And I would always reply, “Quit smoking.”
To her credit, she tried a few times. After she had a partial lobectomy of her left lung, she swore to me she’d never smoke again and embarked upon that mission. She even changed how she wore her hair, her morning habits, her cooking routine—all things that included the ritual of smoking.
It wasn’t until that final time my mom tried to quit and failed that I realized how powerful physical nicotine addiction is, as is the psychological addiction that accompanies it. I used to blame her for smoking because I believed it was her choice to smoke; no one forced her to and certainly not the tobacco companies.
But, back then, people were unaware of the hazards of smoking. And her mother smoked. And advertising was everywhere. So although the tobacco companies did not put that first cigarette into my mother’s hand, they certainly did nothing to stop her.
The tobacco industry did and still does all it can to gear its advertising toward children, to make its products as addictive as possible, and to challenge every tobacco control law a state or country attempts to pass.
Why do I fight for tobacco control? I fight so others may learn about the hazards of smoking. I fight so children are not subjected to second-hand smoke. I fight so the general public may understand the carelessness, greed, and manipulation that is the tobacco industry. I fight so one day, no one else will have to lose the best mother in the whole world.