Dear Big Tobacco,
The year I started smoking habitually was the year a doctor paid by Big Tobacco assured us it was a ‘colossal nonsense’ that smoking causes emphysema. (Horrific experiments on dogs had shown you the truth, but you buried it, along with the poor Beagles). It was 1973, the year my Uncle Des died from emphysema. He was only 54.
He smoked till the end, cigarettes stashed in his tartan toiletries bag in hospital. ‘What’s the point, I’m done for,’ he would say. And he was done for. They sent him home to die with a big oxygen cylinder to stand like a metal sentinel at the head of the marital bed. My mother, his baby sister, was witness to his last gasping moments, and whispered to me one day that poor Des had ‘drowned in his own fluids’.
She took a deep drag on her silk-tipped Cameo, exhaled and stubbed it out on the steps where we were sitting in the sun together. Both of us would go on to develop emphysema, me in my 30s when I was still a long distance runner, dancer and tennis player.
I miss the body surfing most of all. Catching a big glassy roller and being swept into the shore like a flying fish. These day, with lung disease, I can only go ‘tea-bagging’ at best. Dip, dip and I’m done! Basically, I’m slowly choking to death. Maybe I’ll go like my uncle and drown in my own fluids, or like my mother, whose heart gave out in the night, or even peacefully in my sleep. But I’ve got to say, I wouldn’t be dying right now if I had not smoked.
Which brings me to your product that I used, as directed. You were wrong about smoking not causing emphysema. You called it a ‘colossal nonsense’ back in the ’70s. Now Copd is the third biggest killer in the US and I’m one of the millions of people who woke up this morning struggling to breathe because we used your product, as directed.
I won’t go on. Life’s too short. I don’t want to sue you, although I think the government should shut you down and take your profits because they are the proceeds of crimes against humanity. But they won’t. Governments are addicted to the taxes they reap from you merchants of death.
I had a part in my own downfall, of course. But being a teenager in the ’70s, the world was saturated with ciggie smoke. Even my doctor would light up after doing an examination. Aircraft were silver tubes of fug whizzing through space. The disco was indeed an inferno. We smoked everywhere and anywhere, as you had hoped. Your advertising was effective. Personally I found the Virginia Slims ads tailor-made for me, with the tagline: ‘You’ve come a long way baby!’
I was a rebel without a clue, and I worry that if I was a young woman of today I might even be a smoker. It’s a bit edgy. A bit sexy. A bit transgressive.
Oh but my mouth feels full of ashes when I see a twenty-something, flushed with the unconscious beauty of youth , draw insouciantly on her cigarette and blow out a stream of smoke that curls above her like a Sword of Damocles.
And she goes home and watches Mad Men on TV and all the cool young people are smoking seductively. Ad supremo Don Draper wrote a career suicide note when he attacked Big Tobacco in an open letter to the newspapers. But he kept puffing away, this Adonis who drank whiskey from cut glass crystal, made millions, bedded beautiful women, and smoked his head off. If there is any justice, when they write the last episode of Mad Men, Don Draper will be wearing a nose hose.
Wikipedia has a page listing celebrity deaths from Copd (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Deaths_from_emphysema) and I see you’ve lost some of your own people. The Reynolds family copd it. Big Tobacco also lost the Marlborough Man from lung cancer and emphysema. What a PR mess. But you managed.
Do you ever think about all those millions of lives cut short by smoking? All those families heartbroken, the Tobacco widows and orphans in their millions? And now you’ve pivoted to Asia. New markets. Fresh victims.
Pull up the tobacco plants, shut down the factories, give up the taxes and free us all from this cruellest scourge. It is a no-brainer. We can’t find a cure for cancer but we can find a cure for all the millions of deaths caused by cigarettes.
The day I finally stopped smoking was when a visiting chest doctor, a kindly Asian man, told me I’d ‘unfortunately’ developed severe emphysema and had the lungs of a 70 year-old. I was 42—the number that is the Meaning of Life in the enigmatic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here I was getting a death sentence and all I could think of was the immortal line, ‘Goodbye and thanks for all the fish’.
Finally, I would not recommend your product.
Anyway Mr Big Tobacco, I forgive you. That’s why I wrote. I needed to be free of Tobacco physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Now I am.
Barbara, aged 57.
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