I was standing at a supermarket checkout last week when a tallish, self-assured man walked up and asked the cashier, “Where are the cigarettes?”
The young man answered something like this, “We don’t sell cigarettes. We have a license to sell them, but we don’t. But there’s a cigarette store around the corner in this shopping center.”
I didn’t take notes. I’m quoting as well as I can from memory.
The checkout line consisted of me, in front, then a young woman, then a young man. After the would-be cigarette buyer departed, the cashier turned to us and said, “We used to sell cigarettes, but the new owner took them all out when he took over a few years ago.”
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The young woman said, “Our lives are getting more restricted these days. There are fewer places to buy cigarettes and very few places to smoke.” I think she and the young man also said there’s too much government regulation these days.
I didn’t say a word. My mind was slowly absorbing the revelation that the store’s owner is forgoing the profit he could make by selling tobacco products. I guess he figured tobacco may be legal, but it’s also lethal.
I should have praised the owner, but my thoughts hadn’t solidified yet into coherent words. I feared if I said something, it would come out stupid. My fear of embarrassment paralyzed me.
I also said nothing about the tobacco industry’s disgraceful history since the 1950s. It reveals how corporate executives can misbehave when not well regulated.
In 2006, a federal district court rendered a decision on that history. The court found 11 of our biggest tobacco companies were guilty of “racketeering activity.” The court found the companies had advertized and otherwise proclaimed that smoking won’t harm our health even though they knew smoking causes cancer and emphysema, and that secondhand smoke can also cause cancer.
The companies also knew nicotine is addictive. Heck, Tex Williams knew that back in 1947 when he sang:
“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette,
Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death,
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate,
That you hate to make him wait,
But you just gotta have another cigarette.”
And last week, I was again convinced nicotine is addictive when I later saw that man who’d wanted the cigarettes. He was walking outside the supermarket carrying a carton of cigarettes and smoking one.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.