I grew up in a world where it felt like everyone smoked. On television, there were not only cigarette commercials but there was smoking on almost every show, including the daytime soap operas. It was not unusual to see actors light up in a casual way and there was no significance to them smoking. Years later, when an actor smoked it was because the character they were playing was a “bad guy”.  But before then, beloved characters/actors smoked cigarettes, pipes and cigars. I clearly remember Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. smoking whenever they were on tv and especially when they were singing. It would have been weird to see them without a cigarette.

My parents both smoked (they both quit when I was in college) and it was just a normal thing to have ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters on the coffee table. It was normal for my parents to use the cigarette lighter in the car while they were driving. I still remember the sound of my father’s lighter, as he flicked it open and that smell…some things you never forget.

It didn’t seem to be a big deal to smoke around your children, as a matter of fact, at a party we would be surrounded by smoke. It was not a big deal to drive in your car with the kids in the back seat, with the windows closed and there is mom or dad smoking. No big deal.

But through the years, we learned that second hand smoke is a very big deal and there have been many changes in the media world. There has been a lot of education given to parents about how unhealthy it is for a child to be around smoke. When I lived in Massachusetts, I would see a child in the safety seat and the parent smoking, with all the windows up. They were worried enough to strap their child securely enough into the seat, but not worried about the smoke?

Here, in The Netherlands, no smoking is allowed inside a public space. In a restaurant, you cannot smoke inside, but you can smoke outside. This country has thousands of outdoor cafes and that is where you can freely smoke. Many times I have sat outside enjoying a cup of coffee and forgotten that the person next to me can light up, and trust me, they do. It is their legal right to do so and if it bothers me, I have to go inside or leave. I accept that. The Dutch legal age to purchase cigarettes is 16, and that will change in 2014 to 18. But I continue to be shocked when I see parents smoke in front of their children, as that smoke is going right into their small lungs.

Recently, we went to a German amusement park and there was a lot of smoking there. There were trash cans everywhere, the place was kept very clean. And on top of each can was an ashtray and now I know why. At times it felt like we were the only nonsmokers in the whole park. But what truly shocked me was to see parents smoking in the presence of their children. I don’t think I ever saw a parent even make an effort to turn away as they blew out their smoke, they just kept on smoking and the children completely ignored the smoke. This is what they have grown up with and so it was not strange to them. Germany has the same law as the Dutch: no smoking inside buildings. But it really did not make a difference, as almost everything in this park is outside. It made me realize how clueless I am when it comes to smoking. There are people all over the world who obviously do not believe that there is any harm in smoking in front of their children. They do not believe the medical community and that is their right as a smoker. But when it comes to a child, who protects them? Parents will only buy toys that have been tested, they try to get their child to eat healthy food, they make them wear a seat belt or sit in a car seat, they make sure that they look both ways when they cross the street, they remind them to not talk to strangers, and yet….they blow smoke in their face.  What am I missing?

Recommended viewing: there is a wonderful old (1971) movie called COLD TURKEY. It is about a town who is desperate for money and so they decide to have the entire town quit smoking. It has a great cast and it is written and directed by Norman Lear. I hope you can find it on dvd, I am not sure if it is even available. A very funny movie.

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  • Shers Gallagher  On September 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    You don’t seem to be active on Facebook, or maybe your site is closed to close friends and family only. Regardless, I respect that and will respond to you here as I so enjoy your posts. I don’t know if you were living in the Netherlands when all the public transport trains had ashtrays. Yes, it was horrible to be travelling to work and back amidst all the smokers soiling your clothes with their habit and blowing smoke in your face in such an uncaring manner. It was their right after all, and they damn sure made you know it when you challenged them politely or not so politely.
    Since my international teaching days in Russia I have suffered with borderline asthma. What was worse was that it was only a decade ago I stopped singing semi-professionally. In the Netherlands I would sometimes join my man and his Celtic band, singing with cracking voice suffering from all the smoke. One time I even left the café altogether after my lungs froze and I literally couldn’t breathe. It was scary for me. I think the Dutch horeca, meaning the Dutch commercial catering organisation, was the squeakiest wheel and last holdout to Holland’s decision to have a nationwide commercial non-smoking regulation. Believe it or not, Ireland was one of the first European nations to regulate. Of course it did hurt the pub and restaurant trade. This was the horeca’s ‘beef’. 🙂 To those of us with medical problems it was a relief to see this activity gone…for the most part.

  • judy savage  On September 8, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    I was one of those children who suffered in the back seat of the car while my parents both smoked. I remember getting out of the car at the State Line potato factory and the first Friendly’s restaurant in Massachusetts. To this day those food are my comfort foods but I think just getting out in the fresh air was what I needed. Quite a few years ago I walked in to a Friendly’s and asked for a seat in the non-smoking section, knowing full well there was no such section. I got some rather strange looks. Then in Massachusetts they passed a law so that restaurants had to have a non-smoking section. That seemed like such a big step but, of course, you didn’t really escape the smoke as it was still swirling around the place but, at least, no one was blowing smoke in your face while you ate. Now we pretty much take it for granted that there is no smoke in any of our buildings. I found it odd when I was in Arizona that you could smoke inside but not outside because of the risk of setting a fire.

  • krunn7  On September 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Funny you should bring this up. We had a rainy spell this summer. I don’t like TV but had a set of old war movies and thought I might learn a bit of history. In one film the wife on an overseas army base goes to the doctor to see if she is pregnant. They both sat smoking and discussing her pregnancy in his office afterwards. It was so bizarre to watch….and she was pregnant too. He was a doctor. Completely bizarre, almost like somebody was doing a spoof.

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