Not deferential enough: Bye, Pops

Posted Sunday, December 22, 2013 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Bye, Pops

by Gina Hamilton

My father-in-law passed away suddenly on December 21.  While he'd been ill for a few years, and more or less imprisoned at home, due to COPD, he'd always been cheerful when I chatted with him.  We talked only last Tuesday, when he messaged me to let me know that our Christmas package had arrived.

He'd had what he thought was the flu, but hadn't harped on it.  He said he'd leave the package for his long-time partner, Gary, to open, not because he wasn't feeling up to it, but because "Gary gets all excited opening presents," he wrote.  I told him I'd sent him some jelly he could probably eat - he hadn't been able to eat my blackberry jam because the seeds bothered his dentures - so I'd sent apple jelly this year. 

He wanted to know if we'd received their gift around St. Nicholas' Day, which was his intent.  I assured him we did, and said we were saving the box of petit fours for Christmas lunch.  

And that was the last time I talked to him.  We got a message from Gary to call him immediately - he didn't have our new telephone number - and got the bad news.  Dik had died in the night, probably from a pneumonia-like complication.  Gary didn't even know that he had died until about five in the morning, when his body began to cool down.

Dik's COPD stemmed from a lifetime of hard smoking.  My own father's death came from smoking, too, and my mother's emphysema, and my mother-in-law's illnesses, including perhaps her final cancer, also came from smoking.  That's an awful lot of pain and suffering because of a burning plant, inhaled into the lungs, in one family. 

And my husband and son are smokers, too.

I understand that it's a hard habit to break, once begun.  What I don't understand is why we as a society allow this, to the point at which we in fact subsidize it.

If cigarettes were anything else, anything at all, and we knew that they caused this level of pain, suffering, and death, they'd have been pulled from the market long ago. They should still be pulled from the market.  Help people with stepped down approaches to getting off nicotine, and ban the cancer sticks for good.

According to the CDC, tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, 400,000 of those in the U.S. alone.  That number is expected to go up to 8 million annually by 2030, worldwide.  Three times that number will suffer life-long problems related to smoking.

By comparison, about 33,000 die from car accidents every year.  When a mere 27 people died because the Ford Pinto's gas tank exploded, the cars were recalled.  

The verdict's been in for a long, long time.  It's long past time to recall cigarettes and ban them in this country.  They kill people, they cost our health plans a fortune, they hurt the most vulnerable among us - fetuses in utero and newborn babies - and they make widows and orphans of us all.

I'd like to live with my husband to a ripe old age.  I'd like my son to outlive me.  

This year, perhaps we'll rethink our national obsession with sucking cancer-causing chemicals into our lungs and persuade the FDA to do the right thing.

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