This story is about a report on why people should stop smoking cigarettes, and while the report is true, the story is rather incredible. I smoke cigarettes.
While reading an article entitled, "Cigarette Smoking and Ill Health Among Black Americans," published in the July issue of the New York State Journal of Medicine, I lit a cigarette.
Although the facts were staring me in the face -- "Blacks now suffer the highest rate of coronary heart disease and lung cancer of any population in the country" -- I simply exhaled.
Heart disease and cancer, the report concludes, are the major health consequences of cigarette smoking in a black community, where the rise in cigarette sales rides the wave of an unprecedented advertising campaign.
Was I crazy for smoking, or what?
"The cigarette industry has exploited racial divisions in defining a profitable black market," writes Drs. Richard Cooper and Brian Simmons of the Cook County Hospital in Chicago.
"Specific brands, notably Kool (Brown and Williamson), and, to a lesser extent, Winston, More and Salem (R.J. Reynolds), Newport (Loews), and Virginia Slims (Philip Morris) have been promoted for maximum consumption in the black community through the black-owned press and by means of sponsorship of black civic organizations by tobacco companies. At the same time, black-oriented educational campaigns to discourage smoking have been limited."
I started smoking in college, blowing smoke rings in boredom and then challenging a friend to a "smoke out" in which each of us chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes . . . before falling out, nauseated.
I quit again, but remained fascinated with the art of holding a cigarette and eventually reignited a latent "Nicotine Jones."
It now seems that I can seriously consider stopping only when I get disgusted. Reading about the dire consequences of smoking was supposed to be enough to disgust me. Yet I casually took another drag.
What was this stuff anyway? Soothing. Stimulating. Relaxing. (Excuse the cough.) If it was so dangerous, why did Essence magazine offer discount coupons for $1.50 off the price of a pack of Salems.
The conclusions were blunt.
"Blacks have a six-year shorter life expectancy and higher mortality rate from all but two of the 15 leading causes of death," the article reported. "While violence and stroke are associated with higher relative mortality rates among blacks, heart disease and cancer make up by far the largest contributions to excess death."
The consequences were laid out with a bitter twist. The doctors had charged that the excess health toll among black Americans is in the interest of increasing sales and profits for the tobacco industry and is a manifestation of racism.
They criticized the United Negro College Fund and Essence, Ebony and Jet magazines for accepting contributions and advertisements from cigarette manufacturers.
"The ongoing power of the tobacco industry makes a mockery of any claim that the business community and government put the health of the nation above all other interests, so the excess price in health demanded of the black population belies any claim that racism does not lie at the core of American society," they wrote.
My cigarette was about out now, and I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I used to. Somewhere inside, a "Nicotine Jones" was lurking, just waiting to salivate again.
Against the awesome power of the tobacco companies' advertising campaigns, I wasn't so sure I could stop.
Then it hit me. Whatever the tobacco industry was doing, whether offering discount coupons, free cigarettes or using misleading advertisements, nobody had forced me to put a cigarette to my mouth.
I had done it to myself and if that isn't crazy it's disgusting enough to stop smoking today.