Back in the Day… People Smoked, Everywhere

When I was a kid, lots of people smoked cigarettes, and they did it almost everywhere. People smoked in buses, on airplanes, and in the car during the winter months when all the windows were rolled up and children were sitting on their laps.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s many women smoked, even while pregnant. Everyone was Frank Sinatra with a Kool or a Lucky Strike between their fingers. Everybody lit up a smoke like people brew tea today. It was the in thing.

Back in the day, the Hollywood crowd would pose for professional photos with a cigarette in hand. This included Humphrey Bogart, Mick Jagger, and Audrey Hepburn. Even my own dad couldn’t resist. There’s an old portrait of this in my mom and dad’s bedroom. My dad sits stoically, holding a recently lit cigarette. Next to him is my mom with her youthful smile and Liz Taylor hairstyle.

People can’t get away with that today. What photographer is going to take a picture of you with a cigarette in their studio? Where besides the privacy of your vehicle or your own home with all the curtains shut can you even light up anymore?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t smoke and I don’t advise it. Smoking is a waste of money and definitely a health hazard. However… there was a certain elegance in those old black and white photos. Style and sophistication mingled behind a cloud of smoke. This was a simpler time that was rooted, at least to a certain extent, in joyous naivety. I mean, what harm could a little puff of smoke do?

Cigarettes were cheap when I was a kid. You could buy a pack for less than a dollar. As a side note, I remember people saying, “Once cigarettes cost a dollar a pack, that’s when I’m quitting.” Yeah, right. Many of those same people are now shelling out over five bucks in most states for a pack of cancer sticks. In places like Chicago and New York, they’re paying over ten dollars a pack.

There also weren’t consistent age limits in the old days. In many states you only had to be 16 to buy cigs. Some states didn’t even have an age minimum. But even if your state had a minimum age, most cashiers and store clerks didn’t make it a priority to check IDs. Your average 11-year-old could saunter up to the nearest small-town convenience store and purchase a pack of smokes.

And then there were those of us in middle school who tried to get a buzz off of cigarettes, because thankfully, we weren’t able to get our hands on much of anything else at that age. My friend and I would take Marlboros from my dad’s stash. We’d lie down in the grass and inhale as deeply as possible. Then we’d stand up quickly and relish the nicotine buzz. What we thought was a good buzz at the time was little more than lightheadedness and nausea. We were twelve. We took what we could get.

While it’s not in your best interest to do so anyway, the younger generation might as well just forget about looking cool in a professional portrait or catching a cheap, vomit-inducing buzz. Purchasing cigarettes and lighting up anywhere you please is yet one more thing that is simply a memory for those of us who lived back in the day.

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