Many Years of Smoking Cigarettes
12 February 1946 [my 19th birthday]
Hello you all (we’re steadily going South),
As usual there’s not much that’s new. We have 106 Jap civilians aboard & are now in the middle of our trip to Sasebo. Thursday morning we are to get there.
As usual I’m busy – washing, besides my work & watches (the laundry is for dungarees only) plus eating and sleeping easily fill 24 hours a day.
The course we’re on now was plotted by me & another fellow, & I’m catching on to a good part of the work now. The mail situation is still zero – Shanghai it is, not sooner!
Out of monotony and to stuff something into that cigarette holder (carved bone) I bought for two packs of cigarettes I bought in Shanghai, I’ve started to smoke a little – but nothing to get alarmed about. Anyway: if I should smoke I guarantee a pipe. That should look good with the beard I’m growing – very slow work, incidentally. I almost thought I’d have to consider myself defeated, when I got a fine rash on my chin, but in sick-bay they gave me a little zinc-oxide (Desitin) which fixed it up nicely – so it’s up to time now.
Besides a little reading, and an occasional card game my occupations have been listed. I’m sure I’d have a lot to write about, if I had some mail to answer – but: not yet. I would also appreciate greatly if you would send occasional P.M.’s to give me a faint idea anyway of what’s going on. I surely haven’t the slightest idea. I miss music a lot out here – there is no one to even talk about it with – so I’ve started to write again – no piano, no nothing – on watch & a note every half hour. But at least it looks good!
I hope I don’t have to keep explaining, that when a ship is underway, it can’t drop mail, so that lapses will keep right on occurring. Sometimes we’ll make short trips sometimes long ones, some times mail will be dropped right near an airfield, sometimes it has to go aboard another ship first & and will take god knows how long to get places. You see . . . . . The weather’s still been good & we’ve been riding marvelously for an [sentence unfinished]
Tonite in the shower I’ve made the observation that I’m getting fat! You see, chow on here isn’t bad and there’s as much as you want! Just now for instance I’m munching on a tremendous slice of coffee cake that was put out just a while back since they had some left over from this morning, when I had an even tremendouser slice! Perhaps I’ll go on a diet – just leaving out potatoes & eating more of whatever else they have. I I I I With the change in ink it became the 13th – the night before our arrival in Sasebo – that’ll be at 0800 tomorrow morning. I want this letter to go off with the first batch – if they are taking letters off, so I’ll close now.
Everything’s OK in China – as a matter of fact Japan! So
It was an innocuous beginning: “I’ve started to smoke a little – but nothing to get alarmed about.” Wrong. It was over twenty-seven years later that I finally quit, after a career of smoking vastly more than “a little.” Herewith a brief account of a story that has but a single moral: don’t start smoking in the first place. If my original incentive was the carved bone cigarette holder I had bought (I was always attracted to bits of craftsmanship), smoking on watch in the wheelhouse, especially at night when there was nothing to do, was first just whiling away the time and then, inevitably, it became a habit. A pack of cigarettes cost a nickel aboard ship, even then not a big deal. And I was certainly not aware of health reasons why one should not smoke.
And so it went. In college, many fellow students smoked. And so did my best friend Carl. One just did it (as many of our instructors did); it was not really noted. A pack a day and creeping up. “Creeping” because there was a total lack of self-awareness that smoking had become a serious habit. While my mother had always objected in a friendly sort of way to my father’s cigar smoking, it was solely because she didn’t like the smell of the smoke.
And so, as I said, it went. Writing, of which I did a lot, called for increased concentration which in turn led to more continuous smoking. It came close to lighting the next cigarette with the one just burned down. Three packs a day was not unusual. I didn’t feel guilty: it was not an expensive habit and it was not widely disapproved. Until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the serious health effects of smoking.
At first, that “news” did not make much of a dent. It impinged gradually, much boosted by the fact Mark and Ellie, then in elementary school, started to come home with anti-smoking propaganda, starting at breakfast. It finally sank in: smoking was bad, really bad, for your health. And that led to a protracted period of efforts to quit.
My first go at abstinence lasted a full year. It ended when I thought that, having been weaned, I could enjoy a single cigarette after dinner. How wrong! Soon I was again smoking full time. Not much later I tried again. This stint lasted two and a half years. But it too ended, though I do not recall how or why.
I finally concluded that the saga had to come to a real end. So, in July 1973, more than a quarter of a century after my first puff, I became really determined to call it quits. And I did quit, with the usual agony. But by now I had learned from my past and became a member, so to speak, of nicotine anonymous: I’ve never again had a single puff.