Picture this:  I am working in a booth at a kitchen and bath show in South Jersey. Uncomfortable concrete floors with no chairs to rest weary feet, I stand exhausted while greeting and shaking hands of visitors.   I am so hungry I resort to hiding food behind a box of brochures, trying to grab bites between onlookers.  Contractors are stopping in and out of the booth and many questions fly at me from different sources as I try to hear people over the “loud speaker” who is relentlessly calling out winning names for door prizes for the past two hours.  By eight o’clock, someone knocks my cup of coffee over trying to take a pile of brochures for his showroom, but believe it or not, through all the hubbub and confusion, I am enjoying every minute of it.  All except for one very disturbing aspect; I am gasping for air and gagging on my own breath because I am surrounded by smokers!

CigaretteFrustrated and unsure of why New Jersey has not incorporated ‘No-Public-Smoking laws into their Governor’s new campaign, I try to maintain my composure and prevent my left hand from grabbing the lit sticks out of the mouths of my prospective customers.  At every opportunity I want to tell them that they smell bad, that they look ridiculous and that they are polluting my air.  I also want to ask them, ‘why are you poisoning yourself?’  

Occasionally, in the past, I have been brazen enough to query, “If I were to wrap up a few tasty carcinogens in a pretty piece of white paper, hold it up to you and say toke on this for a few minutes, 20 times a day and you will surely die or be really sick in about 20 years, would you do it?”  

I become especially annoyed at those more “considerate smokers” who ask first, do you mind if I smoke?”  I look back at them with a deep look of deliberation, as if there is a decision to be made here, “Hmmm, do I maintain the fragrance of scented shampoo, $50- perfumed-body cream and deodorant or do I go for the more pronounced aroma of a wet ashtray?  Tough decision.  I think I’ll go for choice number one.”

In the past, I have had heated arguments with smokers on the monetary aspect of continuing their habit.  Smokers are quick to tell me that the country would come to an expeditious halt if the tobacco companies were to stop making cigarettes.  This one really makes me seethe.  Here is my final take on that debate.  Let’s take all the tobacco fields in existence in this great country of ours, and turn them into soy and wheat fields.  We will keep all the growers employed and we will produce enough extra food to feed the entire world.  How will we fund this mighty undertaking?  With the extra money we will not be spending on Medicare, Medicaid, healthcare, medical insurance, research and funerals!

So by now you have probably sensed my incense on this subject.  Please know that my exasperation is not out of anger for smokers, or for that matter, the tobacco companies.  It is however, targeted at myself!  I pose this question in my mind every time I witness another beautiful human being lifting the poison stick to their mouth, “With all the gifts that I possess, all the eloquence of speech, education and mastery of words I have gleaned throughout my life, why can’t I adequately express why YOU should not be killing yourself with this horrific habit!”   It is my love for people and my desire to see everyone live the best possible life intended for them, that I become so despondent and a bit unruly on the subject.  And let me tell you, my occasional bravado aimed at smokers does not come without the knowledge of extreme hardship and mental anguish.

Hospital BedTen years ago I had the tortuous experience of watching my father die of lung cancer at the age of 52.  This article becomes more poignant for this industry, because he too was a contractor.  Exposed at a young age to smoking through his parents, starting, himself, at the age of 12, he also pulled asbestos out of buildings as a young carpenter.  This triple jeopardy signed his death warrant years ago, but not with any warning!  He was healthy until two months before diagnosis, never having a day sick in or out of a hospital.  A virile and robust man, he had everything to live for; money, stature, a beautiful wife of 30 years, and a loving family of three daughters and four grandchildren.  No amount of adjectives could describe the emotions felt the day he was diagnosed.  My daughter was just two weeks old when I sat in a sterile room in the same hospital on the same floor that we all had just experienced the tremendous joy of birth, when the impact of the oncologist’s words hit our family like a wrecking ball smashing the side of a building. 

His illness would devastate our family as we witnessed this once gregarious and vital man become a mere shell of a human, unable to care for himself in any manner, and suffering indescribable physical and mental pain.  Imagine knowing that you are dying and leaving your wife, daughters and grandchildren behind.  Imagine being so weakened and ill that you have to allow your eldest daughter to help you urinate into a plastic bottle.  My graphic description may make some of you winch, but the actuality of events is far worse than my recounting.  I watched my father die.  I was the one who drove, shock-entranced, from his death bed to my grandparent’s house to tell them that their only son had just passed on.  I was the one who arranged for his funeral, helping my mother pick out his casket and headstone.  I was also the one who wrote, and with tear-stained eyes, read his eulogy to 100 crying mourners.

If you believe as I do, that this entitles me to be a bit verbal about my opinions, than listen further.  I also witnessed my grandmother’s death over the course of the next nine years as she deteriorated from emphysema, exasperated by the knowledge that she outlived her eldest child.  Never leaving her house since the day of his wake, she lived on oxygen and apple juice for the duration of her life, wasting away to a gray and withered 60-pound old lady. 

FuneralOn his deathbed I made a sincere promise to my Dad.  I swore to him that I would speak of his death to all smokers that I met, no matter how uncomfortable it made them or I feel.  I vowed to him that his departure from this world would not be without repercussion, but as of yet, I have inadequately presented my case.  I have not found the precise combination of wisdom, emotion and empathy to profoundly affect the multitudes of people, young and old, that I witness endangering their lives and the mental and physical welfare of their families.  I pray with each smoke-ridden breath I endure, that at some juncture I will be inspired by a divine intervention and reach out with the appropriate words to prevent another life from being taken by this horrendous habit.  In the meantime, when you are a witness or an unfortunate participant in my occasional tirade, remember that I have paid my dues and that I am trying to prevent your loving family from having to pay theirs.


Donna Martini

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