This past Sunday, as I was watching the Superbowl, a commercial for World Cancer Day, paid for by Chevrolet came on the screen. I fought back most of the tears but couldn't hold them all. What I wouldn't give for one more drive with my Dad. He was a car guy. He taught me to be a car girl. Some of the best times I had with him in those last weeks were on a drive.
I was with him the last time he sat in the driver's seat...
the last time he gripped the steering wheel...
the last time he felt the accelerator grab...
the last time he rolled the window down...
the last time he shut the door...
Last week, the Surgeon General released a comprehensive report on the use and danger of tobacco over the past 50 years. Since the first report was issued, more than 20 million people in the United States have died from tobacco related illnesses. Smoking continues to decline, sitting at 16% of the population today. There are more former smokers than current ones here in the US now.
A week before the report was issued, Eric Lawson became the fourth Marlboro Man to die a tobacco related death, succumbing to COPD caused by a three pack a day habit stretching back decades.
Tomorrow is my birthday. That morning in 2011, though he was getting weaker by the moment, my father announced that we were going to breakfast to celebrate. He was the one dying, I was the one having the birthday, and he told me that it all seemed wrong because I'd given him the gift that year by coming to help him at the end. Around the table that morning, him and I, my mother (also gone now, in part because of cigarettes), my brother, his wife, their son and my virtually adopted brother. I had no idea it would be the last time. I had no idea he'd be gone four days later.
February 10th will mark three years here without him. Without his wisdom, his guidance, his love. Three years since I have heard his voice, his laughter. Three years.
My father didn't saddle up and ride off into the sunset.
Neither did The Marlboro Men.
I don't care what the ads promised.
My father, these ad men, thousands more each year, all their lives ended too soon, ended painfully.
Gasping for air.
Quite often still addicted to the very thing killing them.
For my Dad, it was lung cancer that spread to his blood, his bones, his liver...and then everywhere.
The Marlboro Man was invented in the mid 1950's, when smoking was advertised to every man, woman and child as something sexy, something desirable, something social. The Marlboro Man was created as an advertisement for Philip Morris in an attempt to sell Marlboros, which were filtered cigarettes and at the time, considered feminine. The reason they started pushing the filtered cigarettes was a simple one, really...they knew that cigarettes were dangerous, they just mistakenly believed that filtered ones were safer.
The tobacco companies knew cigarettes were dangerous then in the 1950's. They knew it before they created this advertising icon. They knew it before they packaged it, distributed it and sold it. They knew it before they told an entire generation of men that the only way to truly be rugged, manly men was to do it with a piece of paper containing addiction and poison rolled up between their lips.
The executives knew cigarettes were addictive before smokers and their families started suing the tobacco companies. They suppressed documents, they escaped liability in countless lawsuits claiming that cigarettes were safe, that they did not cause cancer, that the smokers assumed the risk anyway.
How that all wasn't deconstructed just doesn't make sense to me. If there was nothing dangerous, what exactly could the smokers be assuming the risk of? The companies themselves said their products were safe.
And an entire generation of smokers believed them.
By the time smokers realized just how dangerous smoking was, they were addicted. Hooked. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
And the tobacco companies knew.
And they denied it anyway.
They denied it because they made money from their lies. They became rich at the hands of people crippled by addiction to a product they vowed was safe. They profited from sickness, from death, because even in their last days, most smokers can't quit.
The companies weren't able to completely escape liability in later cases and have been forced to pay out billions of dollars to compensate states for health care costs.
That won't bring my father back.
If I sound angry, it's because I am.
I want to go on another drive with my father.
I want to sit around a breakfast table one more time.
I want to hear his laugh, see his smile, just one more time.
Most of the time, I am a writer who vigorously advocates for others, who tries to raise awareness, who shares stories, who exposes injustices.
Sometimes I'm just a girl who misses her Dad.
I love you, Dad.
I miss you every day that goes by.
I miss you more right now.