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It’s easy to see that it’s getting harder all the time to be a cigarette smoker. It’s also clear that with fewer smokers around it’s getting easier to see. I was thinking about things like this the other day when I read in the paper that Portland wants to ban smoking in places where it hasn’t yet been banned.
And there’s a good chance that the Maine Legislature will want to add a buck or two to Maine’s cigarette tax, which could make our cigarettes the highest taxed in the country. I was lucky to have done all my puffing during the halcyon days of smoking, when cigarettes were 80 cents a pack and a person could light up and blow smoke just about anywhere, anytime. You’d go visit friends and if you felt like having a smoke you’d just haul out your cigarettes, light up and start puffing away. It was considered antisocial for a host to tell you that you couldn’t stink up their house with foul-smelling cigarette smoke. Don’t think I’m defending the practice of puffing because I’m not. I was a pack-and-a-half a day smoker who quit almost 30 years ago and am glad I did. I just wish I knew where all the money went that I saved by quitting. And I can’t help but think about how things have changed. Back then you might have been discouraged from smoking in places like church during services, but if the church was holding a more secular event like bingo or a festive Las Vegas-style black-jack fundraiser in the basement, you could smoke up a storm right there in the church and no one said a word.
I know, holy smoke! One of my first radio jobs was as an announcer at a radio station in Ellsworth. Not only did the boss make sure that there were several large ashtrays (remember them?) in every office and studio in the building, but he also arranged to have a cigarette machine right there in the employee lounge. In those days I was doing the 6 p.m. to midnight shift on the air and I would relieve a coffee-guzzling, chain-smoking guy named Al Crimmons who did the noon to 6. Al drank several gallons of coffee a day and would often light his next cigarette from the one he was still smoking, and he often had two or three cigarettes going at the same time sitting in ashtrays around the studio. When I came in to start my shift he would often jump in surprise being all jittery from all that caffeine. More than once his startled response sent an ashtray or two tumbling to the floor where live ashes would sometimes get the rug to smoldering. I remember one time Al was scurrying around the studio straightening things up before leaving. He had a fresh-lit cigarette dangling from his mouth and just before he went out the door he emptied all the overflowing ashtrays into the wastebasket. About thirty minutes later the wastebasket burst into flames. Lucky for me I knew where the extinguisher was and the fire was quickly put out. Not much damage was done and I got another Al Crimmons story in the bargain. Anyway, government officials always tell us that much of the money raised from taxing smokers supports programs that encourage people become non-smokers.
But, the more people quit, the less cigarettes will be sold, and the fewer cigarettes sold the tax will have to go even higher to keep the money coming for the smoker cessation programs. Imagine what the tax will be on the last pack of cigarettes sold to Maine’s last smoker still standing?
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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