The health effects are irreversible, causing permanent change in the structure of an organ and even an organ system. It affects normal healthy cells in a way that does not reverse itself. Risk can remain years after exposure.
I run around the West Warwick house chasing my Aunt’s dog. The dog has passed its prime and only wants to lie down, but I am only a ten year old child and do not understand what it means to be old. I assume everyone has the same energy I do. My family spends the day relaxing with my grandparents and aunt’s and uncle’s. The smell of my grandmother’s Portuguese kale soup wafts through the air, only to be destroyed by the nasty smell of cigarette smoke. I wonder why it smells so bad and the question remains in my young mind for the rest of the afternoon. Mommy why does it smell I ask on the car ride home that afternoon. The chemicals honey, all those chemicals are bad and they smell bad. Okay I think to myself, that answer pleases me considering I am only ten.
On October 15, 1942 Columbus writes of tobacco in his journal, noting that it seems to be held in high value by the native Americans. By November of 1942 two of his explores have smoked, becoming the first westerners to light up.
As I wait for him to arrive, I think of our last vacation in Florida when we went out on a car search. He was driving a 1989 Mercedes convertible at the time, his pale yellow baby I used to call it. The yellow color looked like it belonged right next to an avocado appliance in a 1970’s kitchen but he loved it and for him to even be looking at new cars was a vast accomplishment. I did not consider myself a huge car person. I had just gotten my license and was driving a 1992 Toyota Camry that my Aunt had given to me but the chance to go car shopping with my grandfather seemed like it would be fun. He looked at many cars and fell in love with a Ford thunderbird convertible, a remake of the old famous car. Of course, the car comes in pale yellow, making leaving his old car behind just that much easier. He did not buy anything that day. He claimed he just wanted to get an idea. The actual purchase would come later back in Rhode Island.
I am laying in bed the day after surgery when the phone rings and the voice of my grandfather comes across the line. “I did it,” he says. “Did what?” I reply. “I bought a car.” The excitement in his voice reminds me of a little kid in a candy store, the image makes me laugh. “I am on my way down to see you,” he says. I eventually manage to get out of bed and walk to the front glass doors just in time to see a shiny, black Mercedes two-seater convertible pull into my driveway with the grinning face of my grandfather reflected through the shiny glass windshield. As I walk towards the car he asks, “So what do you think?” and I am able to mumble “I love it” but I barely get that out before he has hopped over to the passenger seat and told me to get in. I slide behind the steering wheel, trying not to focus on the pain and wave goodbye to my mom while pulling out of the driveway. I drive for only fifteen minutes, but it feels like eternity. The two of us must have looked like a scene from a movie, both of us smiling our biggest and enjoying the air whipping around our faces. At this moment, I feel untouchable and unbreakable and my grandfather looks to me like a 25-year-old college stud, the masculine guy on campus with the hot car.
We get back to my house and step out of the car. He bear hugs me and winks, “Pretty nice huh, kid.” “Yea, Grandpa, really nice.” I have never seen him this happy and as I get back into bed, I cannot help but think of how proud I am of him. He earned this car.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States and more than 90% of all lung cancers are directly caused by cigarettes. Deaths from cigarette smoking are the most preventable death.
The lake shines a sparkling blue, with just the right hint of green. I can see palm trees and the air has a slight hint of coconut. The laughing of my younger sisters comes from outside and I look just in time to catch a glance of them chasing a lizard in the lime green grass. Ahhhh, I take a deep breath and enjoy the moment, only to be interrupted by the harsh cough of my grandfather. The coughing continues, and when it does cease he picks up a cigarette and begins to smoke yet again. We are in Florida; I am a sophomore in high school and am on my April vacation. As I try to relax and enjoy myself, the sound of coughing gets louder in my ear. The idea of relaxing goes out the door, unless I consider coughing music to my ears. I have grown up watching my grandfather smoke, but for some reason the cough echoes a little louder this time. It sounds as if it hurts just a little bit more than normal. I ponder this for a slight moment before I hear the usual call of pool time ringing from my mom’s ears.
In 1493 Roman Pane a monk who accompanied Columbus becomes known as the first man to introduce tobacco to the Europeans.
He grew up down south, playing the role of the quintessential cowboy, appearing in rodeos and eventually getting involved with some small western movies as well as some modeling. A knee injury ended the famed rodeo career that was once his life, yet Wayne McLaren had no idea that he would eventually be the Marlboro man, one of the most infamous and popular advertising symbols of the 60’s and 70’s. The creation of the Marlboro man first started when the image of Marlboro cigarettes need to be revamped. They had introduced filtered cigarettes, which happened to appeal more to woman than men and had a feminine image. It had become time to have the most masculine image possible and out of a brainstorming session came the symbol we all know today.
The nicotine in just one cigarette causes changes in heart rate and the carbon monoxide inhaled in one cigarette causes problems circulating oxygen in the blood.
“What’s the most masculine symbol you can think of?” Leo Burnett said to the men of his advertising company and without hesitation, someone replied with the answer of a cowboy. From that one saying a legend began.
Between 1556 and 1559 tobacco was introduced to Portugal, France, and Spain and by 1565 England has also come into contact with tobacco.
Christmas comes around and as usual, Christmas Eve with the Mello’s happens to be at my parent’s house. Everyone shows up, the smells of cooking slowly sneaking up on us as we sit around the tree. As the adults sip my grandfather’s wine, the kids snack on cheese and crackers and drink spiced apple cider. Spirits are high and presents are about to be opened. The Mello family tradition happens to be opening presents before sitting down to a superb meal. As oohss and ahhhs go through the air, I glance at my grandfather. The owner of his own company, he looks more like the aged janitor that cleans the floors of his business. He does not have that normal goofy smile on his face, but rather the lines around his mouth seem deeper and the fleshy red cheeks that often reminded me of Santa Claus as a young child seem to be ashen. I hear my name screamed across the room meaning my turn to open presents has come. I open my first gift, a gorgeous ring as well as a necklace with the letter J. I look up and thank my grandmother first, knowing that my grandfather did not pick this out. I then turn to my grandfather and say “Thanks Grandpa you have always had such good taste. I normally joke with him, but this time he does not joke back. Your welcome he says before returning to staring at the floor. My grandfather says grace, the normal thank you for this food and family leaving his mouth. After dinner he lands himself a nice spot on the couch and clicks on the TV, nothing out of the ordinary, yet every time I pass by him it feels as if his looks at me are lingering as if he wants to tell me something but the words are not there. I disregard my feelings of uneasiness and return to the festivities. Three days after Christmas Eve 2003, my mom lets me know that my grandfather has pneumonia.
A study now shows that benzo(a)pyrene in the tar directly damages the p53 gene, a gene which suppresses tumor development. This evidence links smoking directly to lung cancer because a damaged p53 gene can be found in around 60% of lung cancers.
The Marlboro man must be rugged, good looking and young. My grandfather would make a good Marlboro man, he has that smile with just a hint of secretiveness, he has the tanned Portuguese skin and the sparkling eyes. I think again and then realize that vision of my grandfather strictly applies to the past. That man with the good luck and charm now was heavy set, with tired eyes, wrinkles all around his mouth and skin that had just the right hint of gray. The advertisements did what all advertisements did and targeted people’s vanity. Every guy wants to be what the Marlboro man embodies, so if he smokes then they should also smoke. The more advertising Marlboro put out, the more they saw the rise of their profit. The advertisements were working. By 1976, Wayne McLaren has begun to pose in promotional photographs on behalf of Marlboro.
In 1602, the first connection between tobacco and the health effects becomes public in a article speaking of how chimneysweepers get sick from soot and how this may be directly related to cigarette smoking.
I sit down to dinner for a nice meal with my Aunt and Uncle, and all seems to be glorious. I am eating food without the aid of a Styrofoam tray and I am off campus rather than in my small and stuffy dorm. The words come out of my Aunt’s mouth, but for some reason I am to happy to seem to let them penetrate me fully. Did your parents tell you the doctors found a tumor on you grandfather’s lung? I stare down at the floor, and the reflection of shiny silver catches my eye. The necklace my grandparent’s gave me for Christmas rests perfectly on my chest. A tumor, finally after a minute or so my brain registers the severity of her comments. No, I say they had not told me, how could they do that? I am 18 years old and deserve to know this news. My first reaction comes out as fury towards my parents for trying to protect me but by actually hurting me, my next reaction comes out as pure and utter sadness, suddenly a nice meal does not seem so appetizing. I think back to the coughing, the ashen skin and all the pneumonia, and realize I really should not be surprised by the news, I should have seen this coming.
Each cigarette smoked slows down the beating of the cilia, the minute hair-like projections just 0.01 mm in length which aid in cleaning the lungs. After seven years of smoking, these cilia are either paralyzed or permanently destroyed.
McLaren eventually became the Marlboro man appearing in both TV and magazine ads portraying all that cigarettes could do for a man. They were manly, or at least the ads portrayed this. Marlboro thinks of cigarettes as the key to an independent lifestyle. Independence sets you free in life, with that you can do anything and everything they claimed. How can one be independent when every day they reach without thinking into the carton, ignoring the white warning label strictly because they are dependent, dependent on nicotine. Independence markets cigarettes; dependence keeps a profit coming in. Years later as McLaren lies in a hospital bed connected to tubes an advertisement depicting the Wayne of the past with the current Wayne airs, his brother providing the voiceover that claims how independent can you really be with tubes connected to every part of your body. How can a man continue to run a company when he no longer has the energy to get out of bed I wonder? How will the man who runs my family, providing for each child and grandchild continue to provide when we become the ones who cater to his needs, needs caused by his “independence”.
She continues to speak my head seeming to spin more and more after every word she speaks. I refuse to ask certain question, those that I am afraid the answers will be to painful to hear. I listen to the medical aspects, as well as the pros and cons. It may be benign; there is always a chance, but considering he has been a cigarette smoker for 61 years the chances of that are slim to none. As I am absorbing all this I am still cursing my parents for not telling me. Forget the age of innocence, I am in college now and am beyond angered that they felt the need to not tell me. I am thinking of the phone call I will be making once I get back to my dorm room. How could they betray me and not tell me that my most beloved relative was sick. They knew how much he meant to me. The appetizers come and suddenly as I stare at my shrimp cocktail, I cannot help but let the tears start to drip down my face. My aunt being stronger than I tries her hardest to console me, this news has been a last straw in a week from hell. Everything has already gone wrong this week and now I have to hear this. My aunt does not every show her weakness, she is 48 years old, has been through an abusive marriage, has Multiple Sclerosis (although you would never know), and has just finally found love in her new husband. I cannot imagine how much the news affects her happy-go-lucky newlywed self, but I am her niece, and because she has no children, she considers me her surrogate child. She knows she must be strong here, and I praise her for that, but the news still pains every nerve in my body.
In 1730 colonists form the first new world tobacco companies in Virginia.
The next two weeks crawl by. Everyday the grey, wrinkled face of my grandfather that I first observed at a young age flashing through my mind along with images of a healthy, young grandfather I have not seen in many years. I just want to hear the diagnosis and take my feelings from there. He has the doctor’s appointment, now only a week must go by before we hear the news. I am anxious, every phone call from a family member I expect to hear news of my grandfather. Thanksgiving starts to get closer and closer, this holiday happens to be the favorite of my grandfather. It acts as that time of year when he can be mushy and get away with it. His blessing at the table before we eat always thanks how blessed he has been to have such wonderful family, good thing we are so wonderful, because I know that any bad news means our family will be dropping our individual lives to help him. My only thoughts are what will this Thanksgiving be like. I already have an uncle suffering from an incurable type of cancer; I do not know how much more my family can handle.
After 15 years of exposure, the color of the lungs changes from a rosy pink to a dusty grey or black color and the ability of cells to regenerate greatly decreases.
The week passes and now my anxiety has reached an all time high. One afternoon while sitting in my room my cell phone rings. I look at the caller ID and sure enough, the call happens to be from my dad. I mumble, “Does he have cancer?” The answer although what I expected still hurts. Yes, my father replies, grandpa has lung cancer. Before I know it, tears explode from my eyes and cascade down my face and I am shaking uncontrollably. My roommates crowd around me and hand me tissues, how ironic I think to myself, they are both heavy smokers. As they help me I cannot help but be bitter because I can see one of their relatives down the road being in the same position I am in. Thoughts of grabbing my roommates and shaking them wildly flash through my mind. My mind now becomes bombarded with questions such as how long will he live, how far along has the cancer gotten, does surgery seem to be an option? I fear that he will not get to see the day I graduate and considering he pays for almost half of my college tuition, I want nothing more than to see the smile on his face as I walk across the stage, a degree in hand.
In 1820 the first American gets spotted smoking in public. By 1895, the first motion picture advertisement for cigarettes is viewed.
The Marlboro man smoked a pack and a half a day, one could say he truly believed in that which he advertised, at least until the age of 49. Then, after a quarter of a century of smoking doctors diagnosed the 49-year-old McLaren with lung cancer. The man who rode horses, participated in rodeos, the “tough guy” had been knocked down and the chances of getting back up again were small.
I go to the gym. I need to just run. I enter the gym and cannot help but laugh for a moment as I think of the comments of my grandfather. “Julie getting a little pudgy,” he often said as my grandmother scolded him in fear of me developing an eating disorder from his comments. I knew he was joking, we had that kind of relationship. As I laugh thinking of a good moment my mind shifts back to the reality that there may not be more of these moments. If I had continued to sit at my desk and ponder, the tears were just going to continue to flow. The news from my father was better than it could have been. The cancer was in an early stage but my grandfather being old runs high risks when going through chemotherapy and especially surgery. He must be scared, and I cannot imagine seeing my big strong grandfather weak and uncomfortable, just the thought makes me cringe. I imagine a future in which I care for my grandfather, a future in which the man who used to hurt me with his bear hugs has barely enough energy to wrap his arms around me.
Cigarette smoking is associated with a ten-fold increase in the risk of dying from chronic obstructive lung disease.
I return from the gym to find about five different messages, the one I remember most being from my aunt. She asks if I am okay and then says we will get through this as a family, we just need to convince my grandfather that he can fight this. She says he has no bravery and has pretty much given up, feeling as if he cannot handle the fight that has not yet begun. You must understand my aunt says that he has had his golden days and maybe ready to exit. I want to run up to him and yell “don’t you care about those around you, how can you even consider thinking this just happens to be your time”. Thoughts of my grandmother all alone flash through my head. I think about this and realize that I need to go home for a weekend and go see him. He needs to know that he cannot give up, because he has family that loves and cares about him and by giving up, he would disappoint all of us especially me. He has never given up on anything. I have never been this upset and I retire to my bed for the night, crying myself to sleep.
In 1900, 4.4 billion cigarettes are sold and by 1912, the first scientific link has been found between cigarette smoking and cancer. A 1939 magazine reports that 53% of adult males in the US smoke.
At the discovery of his cancer, Wayne quickly changed his position and started campaigning against smoking. I remember the words of my grandfather. “Julie, don’t you ever pick this habit up he says, “I will be proud to call you my granddaughter until the day you start smoking, on that day I will be ashamed and embarrassed.” That which he had supported to the extreme was now killing him. For those who supported anti-smoking in this country the discovery of the Marlboro’s man cancer sang out the praises of irony. At the end of his life McLaren appeared before the Massachusetts legislature when they were considering a bill to add taxes to cigarettes to pay for health education. He also spoke at the annual Philip Morris stockholders' meeting to support a resolution that the company limit its advertising. Besides those two escapades he made numerous public appearances warning the public about the dangers of smoking. He had the hope for that for every one person who began to smoke, two would quit because they knew the risks.
Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemical agents, with about sixty of those being carcinogens. Most of these substances are poisonous to human body cells, killing them slowly over time.
Thanksgiving comes around and I walk into my grandparent’s house. The room feels heavy, a somber cloud laying over all the excitement that this holiday normally brings in my family. I walk over to my grandfather and he hugs me, the grasp I normally encounter when hugging him does not seem to be present. No bear hug this time, this hug seems to be a hug that says this may be the last time and I do not want to think about that. As I watch football with my uncles, I catch a glimpse of my grandfather outside on the porch smoking a cigarette. I want to run to him, grab that cigarette, break it into two, and then continue to do the same to all the cigarettes in his house. The feeling of being upset gets replaced by outrage. Dinner rolls around and all the normal items are there, my grandmothers stuffing with spicy sausage in it, the perfectly puffy mashed potatoes, the gravy and of course the turkey. It has become time to say grace and everyone looks around before my uncle pipes up. We eat, and before you know it my grandfather has retreated to his bed because he feels week and thanksgiving dinner was the most he had eaten in two weeks. The anxiety medications he is due to the diagnosis tend to make him slightly sick. The man I always looked up to now had been knocked down to almost nothing, this could not be happening.
By 1954 the first product liability lawsuit has been brought upon a tobacco company and in 1966 the first health warning labels appear on cigarettes. In 1970 the president signs a bill banning the advertisement of cigarettes on radio and TV.
After chemotherapy as well as the removal of one lung, the rugged and tough Marlboro man could fight no longer. He had succumbed to that which he had previously endorsed. The cancer had spread to his brain despite all measures. Wayne McLaren died on July 22, 1992 at the age of 51.
By age 18 almost one-third of the population will be smokers and 20 % of all deaths in our country can be attributed to smoking related causes.
Now all I can do is wait, wait and hope. I get calls almost daily, filling me in on all the details. He still needs to get more opinions before he undergoes any treatment and he must focus on attempting to quit because he cannot have surgery is he continues to smoke. I can see the stress this whole situation has put on my family. My dad and my aunt have spent numerous days out of work and with him. My grandmother tries her best to be strong but they have been married for almost sixty years and the thought of being alone has to scare her. My little sisters do not talk about it much, but when we do talk, they express their anxiety. I cannot help but feel bad with them, for they saw less of the healthy years. They are thirteen and most of the images of their grandfather are of the wrinkled old man, not the young and charming guy I got to know a little bit. I often show them the picture of my grandfather on his wedding day and their reaction comes quickly, “he looks like dad” they say. Unfortunately, the pictures of my grandfather at fifty do not resemble my fifty-year-old father, for the effects of cigarettes had already started to appear just slightly.
By 1995 the FDA has declared nicotine, the addictive substance found in cigarettes a drug.
Some of the last words of McLaren included “'Take care of the children. Tobacco will kill you, and I'm living proof of it” (http://www.worldsfastestclown.com/man_dies.html). He also stated that his habit had caught up with him and after spending the last month an incubator, it was evident the habit was not worth the price he paid.
Currently the rate of smokers in this country declines, but slowly. Teens and young adults continue to light up regardless of all the knowledge on the risks.
I walk past my roommates and many others outside the dorm smoking. I am on the phone with my aunt listening to more information on my grandfather. I cannot help but just shake my head, yet they do not notice. They are all to busy bonding over their lovely cancer sticks.. I feel like yelling out you ignorant bitches I have spent numerous days crying over what cigarettes do to you, are you blind to the facts, how do you not understand what you are doing. My grandfather first started sneaking cigarettes in his bathroom at the age of fourteen, but back then the information was not out, no one knew exactly how deadly smoking really was so for that I cannot blame my grandfather. My roommates and all the other young smokers must live by the saying ignorance is bliss, just wait until that bubble bursts.
Grannis, M.D., Fred. “The Young Persons Cyber-Library of
Information on Tobacco and Tobacco-Caused Disease.” 3
“Marlboro Manslaughter.” 28 May
“The History of Cigarettes” cheapcigarettes.com 29
“Smoking and Lung Cancer.” Tabac stop-center.com
“Tobacco Use In The United States.” 17 April
“Tobacco Timeline.” tobacco.org 2001. 29 November
“The Marlboro Man.” npr.org 29 November 2004
Julie Mello, a freshman at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, is working in the six-year doctorate program of physical therapy. After graduation she plans to go into the physical therapy, with the hope of specializing in athletic injuries. She wrote this essay modeled on an excerpt from Susan Griffin's book Our Secret.
Copyright 2005, Julie Mello. This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be reproduced, reprinted, reused, or altered without the expressed written permission of the author.