While stopped at a traffic light on a busy highway exit, I noticed what look like a slight blanket of snow on the shoulder of the road. A closer look, however, revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of cigarette butts. In the car ahead of me, the window was rolled down and the driver’s arm extended with her hand holding a cigarette.

She caught a glimpse of me shaking my head in disgust in her side rearview mirror. When the light turned green to go, the young woman flipped the burning weed onto the trash heap of the others, looked up and smiled, to which I “shamed her” with a hand gesture. It didn’t work as she, in turn, also used an obscene hand gesture, reflecting no shame at all.

Granted, smoking is a serious issue for me as I suffer from congestive heart failure. In addition, my spouse of 48 years served for most of her professional career as a cardiac nurse, the last 10 years as a professional review auditor. Her documentation of disease and death, both lung cancer and heart failure, from cigarette smoking revealed that is more than a shame. It is a crime!

During the 1992 U.S. presidential race, a futurist was asked if then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had a chance of winning. Her response of “yes” and the reason were most interesting. She explained that the incumbent was promoting a “dominion” theory as it relates to the environment while the challenger was promoting a stewardship theory.

There was a time, the futurist proposed, when citizens would say as to smoking: “You shouldn’t do that.” Shaming, or moral indictment, didn’t work. Then when the U.S. Surgeon General issued the warning that the product was hazardous for one’s health, the response became: “You have no right to do that.”

Despite both medical and legal constraints, the problem continues. Granted, the number of older, and I might add sensible, people has declined, but not so among the youth. For them, the moral rebuke “shame on you” earns deceitful credibility with their peers as the majority of senior adults dying daily from smoking-related illnesses started the habit as young people.

I find it more than shameful to enact laws that prevent a physician from assisting a patient to escape a debilitating and ultimately fatal disease, while allowing people to purchase and use a drug that will do the same thing. It just takes a few years longer.

I find it more than shameful for people, by the tens of thousands, to throw lighted torches from the windows of their cars that start forest fires, choke birds and litter the roadways with impunity.

I find it more than shameful for people to continue to ignore the warnings of illness, death and destruction to purchase and use an illegal drug, at least for minors, to the detriment not only of themselves but society in general.

I find it morally reprehensible–that’s stronger than “shame on you”–for parents of children to smoke in the home and car or anywhere else in the presence of children. Second-hand smoke is just as lethal. This is child abuse.

I find it economical suicide to purchase and use tobacco, now quite expensive, for the average family. Not only does it result in increased insurance premiums and medical costs, it robs a family of finances that could be used to purchase healthier food products.

I find it hypocritical for supposedly honorable citizens of the community to support–through the sales of tobacco and by their silence on its dangers–a practice which hurts the entire community in numerous ways.

It may seem a bit harsh, but we do not allow even guests to smoke in our home and automobile.

When our daughter was 16, she was enticed to begin smoking and became addicted. We refused to allow her to smoke in our home. Fortunately, many years later and married, her nurse-mother was able to convince her that smoking while pregnant could cause permanent disabilities. She quit and now has three healthy children.

As a child, when the moral plea of “shame on you” failed to produce an appropriate response, my parents and teachers used a more effective technique, most commonly known as punishment.

And while punishment did not always work in every situation, it established the concept of personal consequences. I had just stepped beyond the bounds of parental responsibility to personal accountability.

Data, history, research and documentation validate the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, not only to the body, but also to the environment and the economy. It is past time to move beyond the “shame on you” approach to personal accountability for smoking.

Jack Brymer of Birmingham, Ala., recently retired from Samford University after a 30-year career as a Baptist journalist. This column appeared previously in the Anniston Star.

Share This