Very seldom do I devote most of a column to one letter from one reader. But today, it's deserved. The reader/correspondent is Marilyn Elliott Kozak of Springfield. Her letter is dated June 20. She writes:
"This June 21 is the third anniversary of my father's death. On that first day of summer, he became a memory, a statistic. You see, he was one of over 100,000 people that year to die of a highly avoidable disease, lung cancer.
"He had smoked cigarettes for many years, and, like millions of other smokers, felt he was blessed somehow. Certainly none of those horrible things like cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and heart disease would stop him.
"It seems all smokers know, or have heard of, someone who has died of lung cancer who never smoked. It's their security blanket, a comfort of sorts. But it is difficult to ignore the fact that over 85 percent of persons dying of lung cancer are smokers.
"Of course, I was extremely upset over our loss, but my feelings were strangely mixed. My sadness was laced with anger. It was almost as if he loved us, but not enough to stop playing Russian roulette with his health. He could have at least stuck around long enough to buy ice cream for his grandchildren, giving them all his love, the love I can only tell them about now. I vividly remember the tears he had as he watched his 8-month-old granddaughter, knowing he had such a short time left.
"I made it a point, as I left his room with his personal effects stuffed hastily in my bag, to find out more about why and how tobacco kills and cripples hundreds of thousands of people each year. The more I learned, the angrier I got.
"I learned that $25 billion a year is spent to treat smoking-related diseases, that hundreds of chemical additives are used in every cigarette, that 'sidestream smoke' is hazardous to nonsmokers, that pregnant women who smoke cut down on the oxygen their unborn child is getting and that persons smoking 1 1/2 packs a day are exposing themselves and those around them to radiation equivalent to 300 chest x-rays a year . . . .
"We are concerned, and justifiably so, about toxic waste, nuclear accidents and drunk drivers. Who do you see defending these potential killers? The tobacco industry spends over $1 billion a year convincing us that smoking is glamorous, respectable, socially acceptable and safe. It is none of the above.
"I do not pretend to have an answer. I am not angry that people smoke. I am angry that in a country where we pride ourselves on our sense of justice that a multibillion dollar industry can market, virtually unrestricted, a product that kills and cripples so many.
"All I hope is that my anger is contagious, that smokers and non-smokers will demand the truth from the tobacco industry and that maybe a few more daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, Moms and Dads will say to someone they love, 'I love you. Please don't smoke.'
"I wish with all my heart that I had."
Thanks for your eloquence, Marilyn. If you're a smoker, can you read Marilyn's letter without a twinge of conscience? I doubt it--and I hope you'll act on that twinge by giving up the weed for good. I did it. Millions of others did it. You can do it.