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Attitudes about tobacco in old-time Phoenix



As someone who never even considered using tobacco, I've been lucky all of my life. I'm OK with people being free to do what they want, after a certain age, but I simply dislike the smell of tobacco smoke. And I'd really rather not stand there talking to someone who is spitting tobacco. I've never seen anyone push snuff up their nose, but I can't imagine that would be pleasant to watch, either.

The smell of tobacco smoke has kept me away from many places, not because I have a moral problem with it, it's just because I've never smoked, and I find the smell, and the plumes of smoke, offensive. So I've stayed away from places where people have done that all of my life, including smoky bars, smoky cabarets, and even the school bus when I was in high school. Yes, I walked because of that.

But like I say, I've been lucky in spite of my dislike of tobacco smoke. When I started my first job after graduating from ASU, it was at a health care company in California. And Blue Cross of Los Angeles did not permit smoking in the building. In fact, smokers had to stay well away from the building, and they certainly couldn't stand at the entrance. And when I moved back to Phoenix in 1989, I was lucky enough to be able to work in a smoke-free building downtown, for Valley Bank. Now every restaurant and bar that I go to is smoke-free.

But aside from the smell and the smoke, there's also the knowledge that people have now about the connection between smoking and lung cancer. To be fair, before the Surgeon General's Report came out, in 1965, it was a matter of opinion. My mom always told me that (since I was born before 1965) that her doctor assured her that it was fine to continue smoking while she was pregnant with me. I often think that if she hadn't, I'd be 6' 4"! Probably not. Anyway, she stopped smoking in 1965, and my dad followed her lead soon after that. So I grew up in a non-smoking house, and my parents led by example. Now they knew for sure about the connection to lung cancer.

But cynical attitudes continue to exist, especially with exactly the people who are targeted to start smoking - children. Most of the people I know who use tobacco started in their early teens. Yes, I'm calling them children. And while I thought that I'd lived to see the end of tobacco use, to my surprise I still see it, and most often it's the very old, and the very young. I feel sorry for them, as if they're carrying a ball and chain, and I stay away, and hold my breath if I have to walk past them.

From the time tobacco was brought back to Europe in the 1500s, it was very popular. In old-time Phoenix, like in front of cigar store there on the northeast corner of Washington and Central in the 1930s, it was more unusual to not use tobacco than to use it. People who disliked it were seen as busybodies, trying to spoil it for everyone else. In the 1950s, people who didn't use tobacco were called "Goody Two Shoes" - an expression that I've always wondered about.

So when I time-travel back to old-time Phoenix, I'm prepared to see a LOT of tobacco use. And I remember the people who chain-smoked when I was a kid - their teeth were yellow, and their fingers were stained. And they lived in a plume of smoke.

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