Let's Really Save The Kids

By Norman E. Kjono

Redmond WA- I returned from my first journey across the great pond to Vietnam in 1966. I was nineteen years old. One of the first things that I did was to go to the department of motor vehicles and get my driver's license.

I didn't have a driver's license or a car in high school. As I recall, that rather crimped one's social style at the time. Everyone else was out and about playing American Graffiti on Saturday night, but I had to find someone to tag along with. It was somewhat of a joke to my friends.

The reason that I didn't have a driver's license in high school was because, as my mother said, I had "muffed it" by getting caught smoking. My dad finally sold a `49 Ford that I was supposed to drive when I got my license. I guess he figured out that I wasn't going to quit smoking and gave up on having that Ford in the driveway.

I was told that if I couldn't be trusted to obey the rules at home about smoking, then I certainly couldn't be trusted to obey laws about something as important as driving a car on public roads. Besides, I was apparently committing a sin by polluting my body, which was a holy temple.

It was fine and dandy to have your holy temple dissected by 70 MM recoilless rifle or RPG incoming, by it had to be pure as the driven snow when it got blown up, I guess. Geez.

I made three more trips across the pond in various capacities with the Pacific Fleet, the last two on diesel submarines. Nice thing about `Nam was that nobody gave you grief about the pack of Luckies that you were hauling around.

Well, life was pretty good for several years. I was honorably discharged from the US Navy in 1976 as a Chief Petty Officer after nearly thirteen years of service. I became a stock broker, then started consulting in stock and bond litigation support. I appeared of record as an expert witness in more that 150 securities fraud cases.

Then in October of 1991 a National Cancer Institute (NCI) brainstorm, the American Stop Smoking Intervention Study (Project ASSIST), was launched by Dr. Louis P. Sullivan.

Lo and behold, there stood my mother again, tapping her finger on the counter in righteous indignation about my uncivilized behavior of smoking. This time, though, they had cloned mom into thousands of activists, spread over seventeen states. I guess I just lucked out, where I live was one of the Project ASSIST states.

This time I was not killing just myself. According to the EPA I was also killing 3,000 innocent bystanders a year. And, the clones said, I was being duped into spending good money, just to feed my addiction. To top it off, I was costing unspoiled folks money, to treat my diseased body.

And, to show me how bad I really was, they were going to raise the price of cigarettes with new taxes, throw me outside in the rain to smoke, and take custody of my son away from me if I consumed the evil weed in my own house.

Well, the finger tapping by anti-tobacco activists made about as much of an impression on me as mom did when I was sixteen years old. There's something about domineering activists with an axe to grind that makes me go deaf.

Lest you misunderstand, my folks are good people. They did what they thought was right, notwithstanding the fact that it didn't work, and that it was a pain in the ear to me. We get along very well nowadays, and have for years.

We declared a truce in our tobacco war by me smoking on the porch when I visit them. On the few occasions when they visit our house, I usually choose to extend them the courtesy of smoking outside. Our familysolved our problem.

I solved the smoking problem with mom and dad in 1964 by getting out of the house. The problem with Project ASSIST, and the well-nourished pack of anti-tobacco activists that it has spawned, is that you can't get away from them. They are, quite literally, everywhere.

And it seems that everywhere you turn there's someone with a self-image problem trying to get their ego back in balance by mandating what someone else should do. It never occurs to them that maybe just leaving people alone might be a viable option.

Which is the short version of how I got tangled up in the tobacco wars. I've been in that fire fight for four years. It's a mess. We need to find a better way, particularly for the kids.

So what do I tell my twelve-year-old son about smoking? Much the same as I tell him about other problems, like booze, drugs, and violence.

We need to start out with a simple understanding here: if Mrs. Kjono, as inspired by our local fundamentalist evangelical church, didn't stop a fifteen year old from smoking, then, believe me, Bill Clinton and all the professional activist "antis" combined, don't have a prayer.

To their credit, my parents were honestly trying to help me, and to guide me in a life that they thought was right. Those positive motivations are lacking with the anti-tobacco crowd. To them it's all about bucks, clout, and "mandating a difference".

So the first thing to understand is that the mandate binge displayed by the antis today didn't work with kids in the 60's, and it won't work today. It will not get the job done in the third millennia. To me, the trick is to remember how we felt as kids, then assume that our kids are pretty much the same as we were. Show a little respect for their intelligence, then give them an opportunity to make an informed choice, rather than submitting to rules. Submission is not big a priority with teenagers.

So, my good young son, here's what I have to say to you about smoking:

1. I know what I'm talking about. I've smoked for more than thirty years. No, I don't plan to quit, but that's my choice. It doesn't have to be yours.

2. I'm talking about this because I care about you, and because I am proud of the person that you have already shown yourself to be. I want the best life possible for you, and for the family that you will have one day.

3. Never do something just because someone demands that you do what they want. Likely as not, you will find that those making the loudest demands have the deepest hidden agendas. Your life is about you and those you care about, your life is not about gratifying the needs of someone with an axe to grind.

4. Part of growing up is learning how to think. You're doing a pretty good job of that so far, so let's think about a few basic realities of smoking:

a. After you get over the dizzy hacking at first, you will find that smoking can be an enjoyable thing. I particularly enjoy a smoke with cup of coffee after dinner, and when I get up in the morning.

b. But, the hacking that your body goes through is also telling you something. It is telling you that your body is rejecting the smoke that you inhale into your lungs. If your body instinctively rejects something, then you can bet that it probably isn't good for you. Listen to that message from your body.

c. The dizziness and hacking occurs because you are putting a large number of toxic contaminants into your body when you smoke. Your body will develop a tolerance for that, but why should it have to? You can avoid the physical tolerance problem by not smoking in the first place. That's a choice you can make.

d. The contaminants that you put into your physiological system by smoking have both immediate and long term effects. You can expect that your heart, your lungs, and your circulation system will not function as well with those contaminants in your system as it will without them.

e. Over time, the negative effects of the contaminants that you put into your body by smoking tend to be cumulative. So you can expect that as you get older the effects will become more severe. You can avoid potential health problems in your later years by not starting to smoke when you are young.

f. Remember, what we do with each today determines the quality of life that we will enjoy in all of our tomorrows. Invest in your physical well-being tomorrow by taking care of your body today.

g. Since smoking imports toxic substances into your physiology, it has specific effects on your body's defense and immune systems. One of the effects is that your body consumes large quantities of natural antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, to contend with the problems caused by smoking. That leaves less of your natural biological defenses available to handle other illnesses or diseases. Your body "using up" antioxidants can also lead to significant vitamin deficiencies, which may cause loss of hair, gum disease, loose teeth, skin rashes and other problems.

5. Considering all of the above, there are better choices for you and your health, than to start smoking. So please don't.

6. There's one more good reason why you shouldn't smoke while you're in school: it's illegal. I won't put up with you breaking laws about smoking, any more than I will accept you doing dope, beating up other kids, or stealing. You don't break those laws, so show as much respect for laws about kids smoking as you do for the other ones.

Enough said.Now, get suited up. We have soccer practice in half an hour, and as the team coach I need to be there early.

And what do I say if he starts to smoke later on, despite what I tell him? It's simple: son, I still love you. I'm still proud of you. You're still a good guy, and I still wish the best of everything for you. Remember always, your identity and self-worth do not depend on what some activist with an agenda says.

In case it wasn't clear at the beginning, neither of my parents have ever smoked. Yes, like them, I'm a good parent, too. I love and care about my boy very much.

Taxpayers just saved $368 billion.

December 18, 1997 Redmond WA

Copyright © Norman E. Kjono 1997

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