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Feb. 16, 2022

Cigarette Memories

Cigarette Memories

I remember when you could smoke in a restaurant. I remember you could smoke just about anywhere. In fact, your cars - cars were built with ashtrays above the door handle in the back and front seats. Also, there was a cigarette lighter built into the dashboard near the driver.  

Cigarettes were recommended for morning sickness if you were pregnant. Some people recommended cigarettes as a laxative. I remember, of course, cigarettes were recommended highly as a way to relax or something to use to calm your nerves or to help if you had anxiety.

Real doctors did actually encourage people to have cigarettes. Now, I grew up, as you know, in North Carolina, and North Carolina, as well as Virginia, were considered the "tobacco states".


As we're approaching Christmas 2021, I'm sitting here and I'm thinking about some of the gifts that we used to give and receive back in the fifties and sixties.

And there was a gift that comes to mind which you couldn't go wrong with this gift if it was something for an adult. It was a great gift for an adult or - a household - housewarming - general holidays. This gift, you usually couldn't go wrong, and that gift was an ashtray.

Even if the person you were giving the gift to didn't smoke. They had relatives, friends, or guests who would come into their home, who did smoke because it was very different in those days than it is from today where smoking is banned, practically everything is banned. 

I remember, for instance, when you could smoke in a restaurant. I remember you could smoke just about anywhere. In fact, your cars - cars were built with ashtrays above the handle of the car and in the front seat by the driver.

There was always an ashtray. There were ashtrays everywhere because there was smoking everywhere. And like I said, even if you didn't smoke, you felt it was only a courtesy to extend the fact that you did have an ashtray in case someone wanted to smoke.

So ashtrays were a gift that a lot of people gave. People got creative with the ashtrays, too. Oh my goodness. I'm just thinking about this off the cuff of my head right now. I have not researched this, but I'm thinking there must - there has to be something called an "ashtray museum" because the designers were so creative who made the ashtrays during that time. Any material that was heat resistant could be made into an ashtray. And it seems like it was - any shape, all kinds of ashtrays, no matter what the theme was, there was an ashtray for that, no matter what the style or color of your home, there was an ashtray for that. 

The cigarette companies were pushing cigarettes really hard in those days, we were not aware of how dangerous smoking cigarettes was to our health, and so there were celebrities on TV who smoked - in movies who smoked. Cigarettes were just everywhere.

It was just so prevalent to have cigarettes. You could smoke anywhere. It wasn't off bounds to really smoke anywhere. And the commercials - I remember there was a young man who played a doctor on a TV show, and I remember his commercial was, "I'm not a doctor, I just play one on TV. But . . ." And he'd say so many out of so many doctors recommend cigarettes. 

I remember that cigarettes were recommended for morning sickness if you were pregnant. I remember a cigarette - some people recommended cigarettes as a laxative. I remember, of course, cigarettes were recommended highly as a way to relax or something to use to calm your nerves or to help if you had anxiety, then it was all about getting a cigarette. 

And so doctors - real doctors did actually encourage people to have cigarettes. Now, I grew up, as you know, in North Carolina, and North Carolina, as well as Virginia, were considered the "tobacco states".

And so a lot of the cigarette manufacturers were there. In fact, in my city, I remember P. Lorillard, which was a large cigarette manufacturer there in Greensboro, North Carolina. Tobacco and cigarettes also employed a lot of people - a lot of people's lives were - their livelihood was centered around tobacco and around the cigarette industry. Not only cigarettes - but I remember my grandmother and my aunt used to do something that they called dipping snuff. And I remember they came in these little silver cans - and they were cute little cans.

And in those cans - they would have snuff in there and snuff was like powdered tobacco. And you didn't smoke it. What you did was they would put it in their bottom gum - that's how it looked like that.

And it was called dipping snuff. And every now and then, I guess they were getting the same thing that a cigarette does to you. But instead of smoking it, they were putting it in their gums and they were dipping - what they call dipping snuff.

And a lot of my relatives - my older relatives used to dip snuff or chew tobacco. So there were these little squares of tobacco that you could buy and you'd just break off a piece and you chew it.

So instead of smoking, you'd be chewing tobacco or dipping snuff. And the thing that was kind of unpleasant to me about the chewing tobacco or dipping snuff was that every now and then you had to spit.

And so, I remember my grandmother and as I said, certain relatives - when we would go to their house, it was very common to have a 'spit cup' or can or something that you could spit in because at very various intervals if you were dipping snuff or chewing tobacco, they would need somewhere to spit.

One of the things I liked to do when I was a child is - I know me and the girl next door to me, we used to pretend like we were dipping snuff and so we would get some Nestle's cocoa because it was brown, like the color of the snuff.

And we would put it in our bottom lip and we would pretend like we were dipping snuff. So. not very glamorous, but I guess as kids, you want to do what you see adults do. And even then, we thought it was kind of like, can I use the word 'gross'? But it was just so much fun to do, especially when we would get to do the spitting part. 

Another thing was how easy it was to get cigarettes. Now I don't remember exactly what the minimum age was in North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s to buy cigarettes.

I'm going to say it was somewhere around 14. I don't know. Don't hold me to that. Whatever it was, it was not enforced because I remember parents sending their children to the store and they would say, "Hmm, get me a carton of milk, get me a loaf of bread, and while you're there, get me some cigarettes. And it was just that easy to get cigarettes. No one checked your ID. 

I also know that there were vending machines, too, so there were machines. Just like now - today we have vending machines that sell different snacks and sell soft drinks. There were machines that sold cigarettes, so it was possible to get cigarettes without even dealing with another human being. So no one knew how old you were when you were buying these cigarettes because you were buying them from a machine.

I also heard - this was before my time - I used to hear about the "cigarettes girls". And this was in the thirties and forties, I believe, where there were girls in mostly nightclubs, some high-end restaurants where they walk around with these boxes and they'd actually just go up to the table to make it easier for you to purchase the cigarettes. They would go where you were and show you what cigarettes they had and so people would buy the cigarettes from the "cigarettes girls". 

Now, originally, cigarette smoking was considered something that men did. It was not something so much that women were doing. Women didn't really smoke, and there was even a period of time when the women who did smoke, were considered the "fast" women - if you get my drift. So a lot of women didn't smoke, it was just a man's thing.

And what the cigarette manufacturers realized is that they were missing out on so much money because women were not smoking. So there was a man named Edward Bernays, who was hired. He was a Madison Avenue guy, and he knew how to get people to buy anything.

And he staged this event at the Easter parade in New York City in the early twenties. And what the event was supposed to do was supposed to, of course, convince women that they should smoke. And so it was staged as a news event and wasn't staged as an ad or anything.

It was like news. And so what happened is they had these beautiful models and there was a certain point in the parade where these models would take out a cigarette and light the cigarette and smoke the cigarette. And they would say something about how they felt liberated or how they felt so free now that they were smoking.

Now, of course, women see this. Women want it to be free. They wanted to feel liberated. And so they were seeing these models and they were seeing these women talk about how free they felt and how liberated they felt because they were smoking. And so that's that was the beginning. That's all it took. And then slowly and gradually, over time, women started smoking as well. 

When I was a child growing up, I was never interested in smoking cigarettes. As a teenager, I never tried smoking. I never tried smoking. I must admit that when I was a little kid, I did like those candy cigarettes. There was a candy that was - it came in a package like cigarettes and they were - the candy was shaped. It was white and shaped like a cigarette. I must admit, I did like the cigarette candy. But, I was never interested in smoking. I told myself I was never going to smoke. And of course, I told myself I was never going to dip snuff and or chew tobacco.

Well, when I got to New York, it just seemed like all the celebrities were smoking. I was there studying acting, and it just seemed like that's what the actors were doing. They were smoking. And so I kind of taught myself the smoke to kind of fit in and see how it felt to have that cigarette.

In fact, I remember investing in cigarette holders. I had a few cigarette holders. one was a shorter one. One was a long one. And I just thought it was so much fun to play with those things. And I had really cute cigarette cases and I just thought it was a fun thing to do.

One of the things that was also 'a thing' about smoking when we were at college - because I know that there were people like myself -I know this who did not really enjoy smoking that much, but they always had cigarettes, as I did.

I think maybe if I smoked, I smoked one cigarette a day. If that - I don't even think I smoked, I only smoked when I was at a party or in an environment where everybody was smoking. But what it did, if you had a pack of cigarettes or you smoked a little bit was when you were uncomfortable or you were at a party and you didn't know what to say or there was somebody you wanted to talk to, then you could always break the ice by saying, "Hey, you got a cigarette?" And that would kind of get things going.

Now, one of the things that happened is there was a theater in New York called the Fillmore East, and that's where all the big rock stars and anybody who was just really prominent in the music industry would perform at the Fillmore East.

There was also a Fillmore West, but this Fillmore East was right near the NYU campus where I was, or the NYU building where I was. And they would have different - as I said - big bands - people who were famous in those days, would come to play at the Fillmore East.

One of the people that I enjoyed seeing there, even though she wasn't a big band, is often Nina Simone would be performing there or she performed there a few times because I remember seeing her there a few times.

And so one time she was performing there and I had a friend who worked in the light booth and he invited me to come to be his guest that night and I could sit. There was a little room adjacent to the light booth and I would sit in that little room. In fact, I had been a guest there of his a few times, and so I was used to that little room that was adjacent to the light booth. And so I was sitting in that booth one night watching a Nina Simone show when in walked Jimi Hendrix.

Now I've recognized Jimi Hendrix. It was Jimi Hendrix, and he came in and he was with two other people and he sat down in this chair - it wasn't any fancy seats or anything. It was just a chair and it was a cement floor.

But it is sat in this chair next to me and I'm thinking, "Well, what do you say to Jimi Hendrix?" Because I was just learning that lesson about if you're not sure what you're talking about or you're not sure what to say is just better, not to say anything at all.

And so I'm thinking, "What do you say to Jimi Hendrix?" And so he sat there and we were both watching the show. And then he leaned over to me and he said, "Do you have a cigarette?" And so I took out my little box of Kools and I handed him the box and he took out a cigarette and he handed it back. Now, I don't know if he was saying that to start up a conversation with me. I don't know. All I know is once I got the package of cigarettes back, I just put them away and I'm still thinking, "What do you say to Jimi Hendrix?"

And so we just watched the show, but that was my I say that also to say that we were in a theater. And of course, like I said before, smoking was just prevalent everywhere. There was like hardly any place, no place where you could not smoke or if you went someplace, there would always be a smoking area or something like that. So that was an experience I had that night at the Fillmore East with the cigarettes and with Jimi Hendrix. 

So over the next several years, I did hang on to the cigarettes. I wasn't even really smoking that much, but just that parties and sometimes in groups of people I would smoke and I held on to -I always had a package of cigarettes. Now I was with the show that was traveling around the country, and I ended up in Denver, Colorado. And that night - the first night in Denver, I did what I always do. But for some reason when I came off the stage from doing my number, I thought I was going to literally die. Seriously die. And so in my head, I'm thinking, "OK, this is a sign. This is a warning sign. I got to cut the cigarettes out." 

And so it was right there that I made a deal with God that if he allowed me to live - because I really thought I was going to die, I could not catch my breath - that if if he allowed me to live, that I wouldn't smoke anymore.

And so I did, and I stopped smoking right then and there. And then the next night, the same thing happened and I'm thinking, Well, is residual. And then, OK, call me whatever you want to call me. But then someone told me said, Well, you're in Denver?

The air - the oxygen is thin. Everybody's having a hard time. In fact, then they told me, in fact, we have oxygen backstage for anyone who needs it. I did not realize that, but I had already made the deal and I didn't want to go back on the deal. And so that's where I stopped smoking was in Denver, Colorado because I thought the cigarettes were killing me. 

It was around 1971 when it was determined - and the manufacturers were kind of forced to admit that cigarette smoking could be detrimental to your health as far as emphysema, heart disease, and lung cancer.

And so that's when they put a warning on the cigarette packages. And that's when the commercials for cigarettes were pulled from the TV. And gradually over the next years, cigarette smoking was banned in so many places because cigarette smoking was almost everywhere, you can smoke almost anywhere.

And so over the years, cigarette smoking became banned and there was, of course, a discussion about secondhand smoke that the smokers weren't just hurting themselves, but because of the smoke. They were also affecting people who didn't smoke as well.

And so that's how we got to where we are today. Those are some of my cigarette memories.