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With smoking's good old days gone for good, are you ready to quit?

It's official: Today a lot of us would rather go to a restaurant that allows dogs than one that serves smokers. How the world has changed.

Remember when smoking was everywhere, blue plumes of cigarette smoke curling up inside movie theaters and over lunch counters? Remember restaurants where your parents would no more leave without having coffee and a cigarette than slip out without a tip?

As a kid I cleaned big ceramic ashtrays in our house — misshapen things proudly made by me and my sister for Mother's Day — brimming with ashes and butts of two two-pack-a-day smokers, a chore like doing the dishes.

Which should have been enough to keep me off cigarettes forever, except for a time in high school when we all decided we smoked. We hung around Dadeland Mall (yes, children, we smoked in malls), Virginia Slims dangling from our fingers like we did this all the time, no biggie, trying not to cough.

I remember how it felt to hold a cigarette, how satisfyingly it fit between my fingers just right. This made me think of when my father would take us to the woods to shoot his gun, to show us the right way to handle firearms and make sure we respected what they could do. I remember the way the gun felt in my hands, cool and heavy and intensely powerful, seductive but also very terrifying. A cigarette felt something like that. I decided not to like them after all.

So I became one of those annoying anti-smokers, would not date someone who smoked, would sigh a put upon sigh and move away from puffers in public. The world became annoyingly anti-smoking, too, once it permeated our brains that inhaling other people's smoke can hurt you, and maybe it's not all about personal choice.

New laws forced office smokers to huddle under overhangs in the rain and banished restaurant smokers to patios, not that we anti-smokers didn't sigh about them, too. You could see patients standing outside hospitals hooked to IVs, getting their nicotine fixes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while smoking rates have stayed steady in recent years — about 20 percent of us still puff away — states with smoke-free laws have the lowest rate of adult smokers. So maybe it's working. Me, I'm glad it's no longer a smoker's world and that we chide even the president for it, and not just because it leaves the rest of us with stinking clothes and hair.

Because here's the trick for the anti-smoker: How do you keep from sounding like you know what's best for the rest of the world? How do you explain that you might actually understand how tight the grip, how powerful the seduction, how personal the choice?

I wanted to call my dad the other day after I read that amazing story about how they found water on the moon, wanted to talk to him about Charlie Crist's chances and how Barack Obama's doing, and how our hometown Dolphins beat the Bucs Sunday. Now is about the time I would call to make my annual (and empty) threat to serve tofurkey at Thanksgiving. My dad, the stubborn­est, most disciplined man I've ever known, smoked most of his life, right through the chemo at the end.

Tomorrow is the Great American Smokeout, big help for anyone who wants to quit. (You can read more at www.cancer.org.)

Or maybe you're not a joiner. Friday's a good day, too. Today's not bad either.

With smoking's good old days gone for good, are you ready to quit? 11/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 7:07pm]
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