The Old Geezer: The high cost of puffing!

By Walt Trandum

Walt Trandum

I guess that smoking these days is a sign of being pretty well off. I see cigarettes on sale for $55.00 a carton and that is a long way from those we got for 70 cents back in the 1950’s.

Having been around for quite some time I notice big changes of all kinds with things that have been around for years. Like most kids I started messing around with smoking at a very young age. Somewhere we found some cigarette papers and tried rolling up dried leaves. I think all we got was a whole bunch of coughing and maybe a little dizzy.


Just about every person older than me smoked either cigars, cigarettes or pipes. Some guys chewed their tobacco and that was kind of a macho thing. Every house had ash trays all around and even fancy lighters were provided. Restaurants had ash trays on every table and every conference room was equipped the same way. When you traveled by air there were pretty girls at the airport handing out samples packages of various brands of cigarettes. Some airlines had both smoking and non smoking seating. I seem to remember that you had to be in the air before lighting up.


I also remember when the tobacco companies would hire young men and women to pass out samples on the campus at the University. I believe there were people on the sidewalks downtown handing out samples. Tobacco companies were major advertisers on both radio and television. Who could forget Glenn Miller and his orchestra selling Chesterfield Cigarettes along with Moonlight Serenades and Chattanooga choochoo.


One summer I had a job in Alaska working on a fishing boat and we could buy cigarettes at a very low price. Since it was a territory outside of the United States at that time, cigarettes were tax free and we could get a carton for 70 cents. For some reason I decided to buy a bag of tobacco to roll my own. I wasn’t very good at it and managed to plug up some of the bilge water pipes with my attempts that didn’t smoke right.


The real Cigarette smokers all went for the straights and only sissies used the filtered brands. Some preferred the Cools with a menthol kick. Most brands came in two sizes, King or Regular and the hard core smokers went for the long ones with more bang for the buck.


Cigar smokers in our family seldom smoked anyplace but outside or in the garage or basement where the heavy smoke wouldn’t bother the ladies and children. Cigars came in all sizes and shapes and for the younger users there were some that were actually sweet tasting. There is still a big market for very high priced brands and some of those have been smuggled in from Cuba for the last fifty years. I met some ladies in a bar in Pennsylvania who were cigar rollers. They talked me into trying one of them and I got sicker than a dog. While I never got the cigar habit I have been collecting Cigar Boxes for many years. Some of them are probably valuable if I removed all the nuts and bolts and other items I have stored in them.


Smoker’s pipes come in all forms, the rough and tough corn cob pipes and the very ornate works of art that were carved from wood burls. There is a large firm in Seattle that invented the metal Meerschaum pipe that has an efficient filter to take away all the poison. They are still in business but I have not observed anyone using one for many years.


I am one of the lucky people who got away with smoking for a very long time. Quitting was not too difficult because the person who said it was killing me was the surgeon who operated on my heart. I would probably have a lot more spring in my step these days if I had quit much earlier.


Kind of ironic when you keep hearing about all the wonderful revenue the government is now receiving with the marijuana laws being relaxed. If the weed doesn’t make you goofy and you get in big trouble you might even survive the new found attack on your body from the smoke. I guess you can eat it or drink it and the buzz will be with you. None of this makes much sense when you realize the State of Oregon is in the booze business and now wants to tap the marijuana bucks and they are also paying for the police to arrest you if you take more than you should. How does a person who is just a little goofy figure out just when to stop?