I grew up in a house of smokers.
My father smoked. My mother smoked Lucky Strikes, nonfiltered.
My older brother and sister smoked. Uncles and aunts smoked.
They smoked a pack or more a day.
It seemed like everyone I knew was a smoker.
I can remember riding in the family car during frosty Ohio winters, the windows all rolled up, while four other adults were puffing away for the entire trip. Our house was filled with smoke. Our clothes smelled like smoke.
For reasons I can only attribute to divine providence, I never took up the habit. I tried it for about a week in college, then quit when I was having to remind myself to smoke. Although that ranks as a pretty good decision, Lord only knows how much second-hand smoke I inhaled as a lad.
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So, as you might guess, I'm all for the decision announced Wednesday by the massive CVS Pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores. The company could lose about $2 billion annually in sales for this, but CVS President Helena Foulkes said it didn't make sense to sell cigarettes in the same store where you can buy medicine.
What a concept.
Although President Barack Obama and the first lady quickly praised the move, as they should have, I don't see this as a red-state or blue-state issue.
It's a public health issue, and I'll admit it's personal.
My mother eventually died of congestive heart failure, and I'm convinced her years of smoking contributed. My sister suffers from the same problem. One of my aunts had lung cancer. A niece who started smoking early had breast cancer.
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The evidence linking cigarettes and cancer is indisputable, and once you start smoking it can be incredibly difficult to stop.
Have you ever seen someone battle nicotine withdrawal?
It can be agonizing.
It's hard to believe now that when I grew up, smoking was considered cool. Television ads and movie characters made it seem so normal.
James Bond smoked, for goodness sakes. Who wouldn't want to be James Bond?
Smoking was almost a sign of passage into adulthood, or even into your teenage years. There is no such excuse now. We know too much.
Here's a statistic for you: According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 443,000 people die prematurely because of smoking every year in the United States.
It doesn't stop there, though.
The organization says an additional 8.6 million people deal with a serious smoking-related illness. In other words, the CDC says that for every person who dies from smoking, 20 more get really sick.
Even if you don't know those numbers, there is no excuse for not knowing the effect smoking can have on your health, as well as those around you. If you choose to smoke after all that, well, that's your business.
Smoking won't drop significantly, sad to say, because of what CVS did.
People will buy their cancer sticks somewhere else.
Public opinion is closing in, though. Maybe now, other big chains will follow the CVS lead.
Walgreens put out a statement saying it is “evaluating” whether to continue selling smokes.
Believe me, I understand how hard it is to stop smoking.
I saw it up close. The battle still has to be fought.
CVS didn't save the world with this move, but it may have saved some lives. In today's profit-crazed world, that's a breath of fresh, non-smoky air.