By Jug Varner

November 17, 2005 was the American Cancer Society’s 29th annual Great American Smokeout Day throughout the nation - a time for those who smoke tobacco to take a firm step forward and douse that habit in the ash tray once and for all. Of course, for those who are serious about stopping smoking, it may take more than a day. But, it’s a start!

Before I joined the Navy in WWII, I had never succumbed to the smoking habit, although I had tried it once or twice and didn’t understand why anybody could possibly think it was fun. Then one day some two years later, while in a Navy hospital recovering from an emergency surgery, bored out of my mind with nothing to do, I tried it again. A strange place, indeed, to start smoking, but every patient in the ward except me was a smoker. The non-smoker was a rare exception back then.

Most movie stars of that day made it look glamorous to their youthful fans. Most older adults were already hooked. Viewing old movies of that era, with practically every actor in each scene smoking cigarettes or cigars, emphasizes my point.

For more than a decade I was a two-packs-a-day guy before finally deciding enough was enough. I tried breaking that tough habit a couple of times, half-heartedly wanting to both quit and smoke, but soon realized the only way to stop was quit “cold turkey“ - just stop the dirty habit overnight, never to start again. It was a tough two weeks, but I won. That was in 1954 and I have not smoked since.

During a brief time afterward, I would occasionally dream that I was smoking, then awaken to reality and be greatly relieved that I hadn’t broken my pledge to myself. In my case, that serious pledge to myself was the most important part of the quitting ritual.

It amazed me how much fresher and cleaner the world around me seemed, how much more delightful the food tasted, and how badly my clothes smelled after attending a social affair where many people smoked. The only downside of all this for me was the tastier food. Someone should have warned me to control my diet once I stopped smoking, to keep from gaining too much weight and maintaining it too long. But that food tasted soooo good!

Almost everyone in my and my wife’s family eventually quit the habit and hardly any ever went back to smoking. None of our three kids ever picked up the habit, and none of their kids smoke.

Today, smokers are about as rare in my age group as non-smokers were in my youth, although far too many of teenagers have started the habit, while a number of diehards who would rather die than quit smoking may soon get their wish.

The typical old geezer’s reaction today to his or her misspent youthful years is: “Had I known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

(Too soon old, to late smart.)