HALLIE: Any author can tell you why so many characters smoke in books - because a cigarette is a great prop. Your character can lean back leisurely and shoot a stream of smoke to the ceiling, or mash that butt into his girlfriend's grapefruit. In The Maltese Falcon we never once get inside Sam Spade's head, but Hammett shows us his mood by how he rolls a cigarette.
Most of us have smoked at one time or another. When I was in my 20s, everyone did. We might not have been so foolish if we'd seen the new warning labels the FDA announced this week, graphic pictures (a cadaver; a tracheostomy hole...) that drive the message home. Quite a change from early cigarette ads. Can you believe, they knew cigarettes were lethal and still the ads featured Santa Claus and babies.
I smoked, sort of, until I was in my twenties and got asthma so bad I had to stop or quit breathing. Fortunately I was a social smoker. Meet a friend "for coffee" and bum a cigarette. Then another. So it wasn't all that hard to quit and I truly don't miss it.
It's hard to remember when EVERYONE smoked. The other day I was in someone's house who still smokes, and even though they weren't smoking when we were there, the smell was overpowering and I could smell it on my clothes when I got home. My father and especially my mother were chain smokers. It never bothered me then. Did we all just, for decades lose our senses of smell?
ROBERTA: My mother smoked Kents all my life too Hallie, I believe even through 4 pregnancies. Times were different. Now we would be horrified if someone lit up in a restaurant, or even a bar, but back in my twenties, we all smoked everywhere. We thought we were too cool. Unfortunately, I did get hooked for a while--Salem lights. ick! then I moved to Nicorette, which you had to get by prescription, which made you feel like an addict. (which you were!)
RHYS: I grew up with two parents who smoked. In fact when my mother was pregnant with me the doctor urged her to keep smoking to calm her nerves. How far we have come! I tried a few experimental puffs in college but since it was polite to hand around the pack every time one smoked, I could see it would be an expensive habit, so I never got hooked.
John smoked then quit when one of our daughters proved to have bad allergies. When our kids were teenagers we promised them $500 if they were not smoking at 21. All four collected the money and nobody we know still smokes. The smell literally makes me sick. Can you remember those college parties when the fug was so thick you could hardly see across the room? I have to remember in my 1930s books that all the characters would be smoking.
I hate to see young people smoke these days (any people really.) It's so clearly awful for the human body, hard to see how someone overlooks that. Except nicotine is terribly addicting. THAT I do get!
HALLIE: I hate to see young people smoking too - and I wonder why is it that so many nurses smoke?
JAN: Luckily, I never smoked much, and my father was always bribing me to stop smoking so it was very much on again and off again. Into my thirties I would have an occasional cigarette if I was out at a bar with my cousins (who still smoke), but for the most part I gave it up in my mid twenties. I could never smoke again - but I love the smell of it outside on a summer day. It reminds me of my wild youth.
ROSEMARY: Guilty. I smoked when I was a teen - Marlboro, box. Parents and sister did and all my aunts and uncles. My dad smoked Camels, which I snuck as a kid. Non-filtered, of course. I loved the package and loved the mechanics of it. We were so cool.
Like Jan, quit in my twenties. Inspired by a foreign boyfriend I picked it up again briefly in my thirties, I think they were Gauloises/Rothman...something foreign... and haven't smoked for years.
Just got back from the movies (Midnight in Paris.) Marion Cotillard looked great with a cigarette holder but I'm not rushing out to buy cigarettes.
I think I just stopped doing it and never really missed it.
HANK: You know what? Never. (My stepfather smoked Kents. Died of mesothelioma. Story was--that micronite filter? Asbestos. But that's another blog.)
Anyway, in college? I tried one day. My pal Hallie (yes! Another Hallie. Marjorie Hallahan was her name) and I went out to buy the coolest package of cigarettes we could find so we could start to smoke like everyone else did.
We chose Montclair, very sleek, navy blue with a gold crest.
Marjorie took right to it. I gacked, gasped, gagged, coughed, eyes watered--and that was without inhaling. I started choking, put the cigarette down to get water. I somehow missed the ashtray and burned a huge hole in my dorm room bedspread.
And that was the end of that. Never again.
DEBS: My mom smoked cigarettes, my dad pipes and cigars--until he got throat cancer. Fortunately it was operable, and they both quit after that. Funny, but my strongest memory of climbing into bed with my parents when I'd had a nightmare as a small child--the smell of smoke.
As for me, I starting sneaking my mom's cigarettes when I was about fourteen. I loved hanging out my upstairs bedroom window on summer nights. I smoked off and on through high school and the beginning of college--everyone did, it seemed--but I always hated the smell on my hair, in my clothes, on my hands, and I could not STAND dirty ashtrays.
I guess there are some benefits to being a BIT obsessive compulsive, because I quit when I was twenty-one and have never been remotely tempted to pick up a cigarette since. I always have a hard time in books remembering to have characters smoke, even though my husband smoked until just last year. He was terribly, terribly addicted, and did a lot of research on the biochemistry of nicotine addiction. Very scary stuff.
JULIA: I'm the other never-did-it, Hank. My mother smoked throughout my childhood (didn't everyone's mother?) but developed serious pleurosy/emphasema when I was about 13. I would help pound on her back while she coughed and coughed, trying to clear her lungs. I remember hiding her cigarettes, running packs under water, doing everything I, an obnoxious kid, could do to get her to quit. (Happy ending - after her doctor told her she had to choose between smoking and leaving her children orphans, she stopped cold turkey. That was over 30 years ago, and now she's an incredibly healthy woman who walks miles every day to keep fit.) That experience, at an impressionalbe age, innoculated me against cigarettes allure for life.
My dad quit at the same time, although in his case, he transitioned to a pipe for a while to make it more palatable. I confess to loving the smell of pipe tobacco and pipe smoke (even though I know it's not any safer than anything else.)
My favorite tobacco-related memory: tucked into bed upstairs in my grandmother's house while the grownups talked and smoked and played cards in the dining room below. The smoke would curl up in wisps through the old-fashioned floor vents, and I could hear quiet bursts of laughter. It made me feel all was right with the world.
HALLIE: Fess up... did you smoke? Inhale? And how did you give it up (please, tell us you have!)