I was waiting for the bus when, from behind, a man came up to me. He was holding a cigarette.
“Got a light?” he asked. When…when was the last time I heard that? It had to be at least ten years. I’m not joking. It had to be at least ten years since anyone asked me if I had a lighter so that they could light their cigarette. I didn’t have one, so I shook my head. He asked three more people. Same thing. Finally, one person had a lighter. The guy lit his cigarette and the air around me smelled of smoke and tar and all the smells that smoke has. I held my breath.
The bus came. We all got on. Except the smoker.
“Put that out, man,” the bus driver said.
“One second,” the smoker said.
“Put that out, man,” the bus driver said again. “Man, don’t you know? Don’t you know? Smoking will kill you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the smoker said, waving the bus off.
“Gonna skip a bus to finish smoking,” the bus driver said, closing the door, taking off. “Some people are just stuck man. They are just stuck.”
That whole thing took about two minutes. But I have thought about it for weeks. Smoking is over.
People still smoke, yes. But the people who do smoke are no longer powerful enough to inconvenience the rest of us. When I was growing up, my parents smoked. My grandparents smoked. Everyone I knew smoked. The scent of smoke was more common to me than not smelling it. I remember ash trays. I remember cleaning ash trays, getting ash trays for my parents, sitting around as people smoked, watching my grandfather smoke a pipe. Smoking was a part of me. I was from the South. You smoked. I drove past tobacco fields. People smoked. That’s what people did.
My grandmother stopped smoking once the doctors told her it wasn’t good for her. She just stopped. My mother stopped smoking when she had to work on beating cancer. My youngest sister just quit. More and more, people I know aren’t smoking. Smoking in a bar is illegal in more places than it is legal. At the college where I teach, you can’t smoke anywhere on campus. Anywhere. Not even in the parking lot. It’s more than the health risks or the legal restrictions placed on it. Smoking is wrong now. Smoking is wrong and stupid.
In ten years, how many people will be smoking?
Plenty of people still smoke. But the allure behind it, this image of the cool smoker is gone. This is proof that, with education and agressive regulation and taxation, people can change. Whether they want to or not. We used to look at smokers as loners, as rebels, as classic cool. Then we saw them as narcissists or masochistic. Now we see them almost like lepers. Soon they will be dinosaurs and then myths. People used to smoke? Cigarettes? God. So long ago.