PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Recent reports indicate that in some states, including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, smokers are getting prioritized for the COVID vaccine, right up there with transplant recipients, heart patients, people with diabetes, and your grandma.


Photo of a cigarette smoker with a black eyeThis seems like a good time to reveal a little-known fact about me, which no doubt will cause a stir and will be trending tomorrow on the internet: it turns out that I formerly smoked cigarettes. And I don’t mean one or two after dinner: I was a pack a day smoker, lighting up Marlboro Reds, Marlboro Lights, Kools, Newports, Parliaments, and every now and again an American Spirit. I doubt I ever smoked a Lucky Strike, but given that I bummed cigarettes from other smokers, it’s possible that I smoked Luckies, Pall Malls, and maybe even a Tareyton once or twice, whose devotees would “rather fight than switch.”

I don’t know who would have cared enough about another person’s cigarette of choice to demand that they part with their Tareytons in favor of some other brand, but from the billboards and magazine ads, those Taryton smokers were suffering lots of faux back eyes.

Another odd fact: Bishop Grimes High School in East Syracuse, New York, where I received advanced training in the smacking of heads on the gridiron, had annual fundraisers for the school that were called “smokers.” When I was a kid, I stupidly assumed that it was because everyone smoked while losing at blackjack and poker. I checked with my sisters on this one (so it must be true), and their answer was yes, that’s exactly why it was called a smoker. (To be completely transparent, my sisters aren’t really sure.)

You non-smokers may find it hard to believe that cigarettes in a newly-opened pack are “fresher” than those a few days old, just like Cheerios out of a new box are fresher. How can that possibly be, given that cigarettes are the antithesis of “fresh"? Still, if someone held a gun to my head and demanded that I smoke a cigarette right now, I’d request a fresh one.

Whenever we bought a new packet of cancer sticks, we’d smack the packs against our palms for a couple of minutes before removing the plastic wrapper so that the tobacco would get densely packed into the tube of cigarette paper and would leave a millimeter or two of empty space at the end. Then we’d light up and suck the toxic fumes deep into the inner recesses of our pulmonary systems, like it was the only thing that could get us through the next 10 minutes of our lives, wrecking our lungs and annoying the hell out of everyone around us.

Comedian Steve Martin in the 1970s with several bent cigarettes in his mouthI'm telling you this because while I’m no longer a smoker I have lots of smoke in my history, and maybe even more badly damaged lungs than many of the 20-year olds who are currently inhaling lung snacks and appear poised to jump ahead of me in line.

On the other hand, I feel like I have at least a small argument to put me up there with smokers, given that several times a year I smoke a big pile of ribs for the family. Maybe that’s not exactly what is meant by “smoking,” but ask any public health expert and they’ll tell you that smoking anything is a danger to your health. 

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