I’m old enough to remember when smoking was cool.
There were billboards and catchy TV jingles that even a kid could sing: “Winston tastes good like a (clap-clap) cigarette should!”
Who didn’t want to be a cowboy after that most-American of icons invited us to “Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country”?
Finally, women could stop carping about equality, thanks to Virginia Slims: “You’ve got your own cigarettes, now, baby! You’ve come a long, long way!”
Fifty years ago, 42 percent of Americans smoked. Today, it’s 22 percent.
What changed? The culture did.
What worked in old Bette Davis movies — lovers languidly blowing smoke in each other’s faces — would be hooted off the screen today.
American GIs were told “smoke ’em if you got ’em, ” and they did, courtesy of the government, which gave them free cigarettes. Imagine the response to such a policy today.
It isn’t time and fashion alone that have changed how we view smoking. Once it was learned how deadly and dangerous cigarettes really are, awareness went up and demand went down.
Also, law follows culture. I can remember going to the corner store at 8 or 9 and buying Pall Malls for my grandmother. No one thought anything of it.
Plus, we kids had our own candy cigarettes. They tasted like chalk, with a bit of sugar thrown in. We pretended to puff and blow smoke just like the adults, right before we got bored and ate them.
Today, it’s all but illegal for kids to touch a real cigarette. Stores that still sell tobacco products to minors today likely are breaking other laws, too.
The point is, culture is the real driver behind what we decide to change. Doctors used to smoke in their offices. Now, you can’t even smoke in an outdoor stadium.
That shaking you felt last month was a seismic shift in Americans’ attitudes toward the accessibility of assault-style weapons. No amount of smearing, spinning or money is going to reverse the momentum of millions of traumatized high school students who are about to become registered voters.
They’re changing the culture. If the laws don’t follow soon, they may well toss out the people who make them.
Lehman gets it right
Recently, the Miami Herald did a stellar job of detailing alleged Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz’s violent and troubled life.
One quote stands out: “When I met him, I knew there was something weird about him, there was something off,” Manolo Alvarez, 17, told the paper. “He was a really quiet kid. He would get bullied a lot.”
In Canton, Ohio, Lehman Middle School recently endeavored to help put a stop to the kind of isolation and bullying that can trigger such tragedy. On Feb. 9, members of the Stark County Fatherhood Coalition and Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket Andre Tippett visited Lehman to take part in the national “No One Easts Alone Day” to encourage students to reach out to others who might feel isolated.
Let’s hope schools everywhere do so, and more than once a year. Social isolation is like a scent for bullies. We know that in far too many cases bullied kids are the ones pulling the triggers.