A few readers commented on my column about radical change and the steep decline in the use of toothpicks. I’ll admit it was an off-the-wall subject. 

So, I now turn my thoughts to our old foe, cigarettes, also a victim of radical — and medical — change.

We now know for certain what we long suspected: that smoking is deadly to our health and can sicken and shorten our lives.

I once saw a witty cartoon in The New Yorker magazine about smoking. It pictured a guy in a coffin with two of his friends looking down at him. One says to the other: “I never thought I’d see the day when Bill wasn’t smoking.”

Most all writers and editors in newsrooms gone by puffed on cigarettes in a time when newspapers were an important source of local and national news. 

A quick aside: I see no use in wasting my time and yours writing about the mess in Washington. Or the latest Twitter comments from The Donald. That situation speaks for itself.

If Washington were a swamp to be drained by our alligator-trainer president, it’s now turned into the entire Everglades, with hostile reptiles at our every footstep.

But putting that aside, let’s turn our thoughts to when newspapers were king. That was a glorious period in our American pageant.

Truth is, there was a time when we couldn’t exist without our daily and weekly papers. Now, as they are disappearing or dwindling because of modern, high-speed media, it seems we need them more than ever. The newspaper you’re holding, the Auburn Villager, is a good example of that urgent need.

Newspaper newsrooms, like just about all offices or workplaces years ago, were often filled with smoke as the writers and editors worked feverishly to fill the paper with breaking news and readable articles.

Reporters nervously puffed on cigarettes while trying to beat the clock ticking down to deadline. They were hard at work attempting to explain — and craft an article — on what went on at a town board meeting or a zoning hearing.

The city desk area at the old Birmingham Post-Herald looked like San Francisco when the fog rolled in from the bay. You had to look hard into the smoke to see that puffing copy editors were hard at the task of editing articles.

It wasn’t quite as bad at The Columbus Ledger, but when crime reporter Tom Duncan was puffing on one of his illegal, all-tobacco Cuban cigars delivered from Miami, there was a dark cloud with a pungent odor hovering above his head and his area of the newsroom.

Copy editor Don Osborn and his workers kept the copy desk area under a dense white cloud, too. As you can see from what I’m writing, newsrooms used to be places filled with nervous cigarette smokers.

Many of them were chain smokers, meaning one cigarette after another. Frank Bruni, the Sunday paper editor, lit a new cigarette with the lit tip of the old one, a non-stop process one after the other.

In the military during training, the first sergeant used to scream out, “Light ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.” That meant a smoke break. The trainees carried their cigarette packs in a special holder attached to the calves of their legs. 

We were not allowed to carry cigarettes or cigars in our shirt or pants pockets. It was part of nonsensical military protocol.

I was one of the nonsmokers who had to inhale the obnoxious odor during training breaks and later when I was a reporter and city editor in foggy newsrooms. 

The research papers that came out beginning in the 1980s showed us smoking was bad for our health. Those studies also convinced the majority of people there isn’t anything healthy or good about smoking.

Since then, we’ve learned an awful lot about how tobacco tar from smoking destroys human cells in lungs and vital organs. 

Many wise souls decided to ditch their tobacco habits and quit inhaling the dangerous tar as those sobering studies came out.

But has all the negative articles and research on cigarette smoking, as well as tobacco bans by businesses, convinced us that there is nothing good about smoking? 

Perhaps …but measured somewhat. Some folks I knew back in the wide-open days of cigarettes still smoke today, despite evidence of health fallout.

And scores of youths and older adults have turned to a new device called e-cigarettes, which package nicotine salts from leaf tobacco into an inhaler.

The e-cig market, aimed at youths and former adult smokers, has grown into a $2 billion a year moneymaker. These e-cigs are said to be non-addictive, but we know that’s not the case.  

So, speaking for non-smokers, I can at least thank the good Lord we can now work and eat in environments free of smoke. And that’s a blessing.

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is r.morris@ctvea.net

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