Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Dad, The Marlboro Man & The Lie About Riding Off Into the Sunset

Yesterday was World Cancer Day.

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.

They lied.

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.

Nothing will.

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.


  1. I hope your dad is proud that I quit smoking... it will be 5 years ago next month that I quit. Best thing I ever did for myself. For my son and my future grandchildren.
    I'm so sorry he's no longer here with you. You deserve all those things you wish for.

  2. I read this blog and felt my heart rip in two. I lost my Dad to COPD and Emphysema this past Christmas night and my birthday is in a few days also. I can't stop thinking about him, missing him, hurting for him, hurting for me. My heart breaks for you, I understand all too well. May you find some peace, may we both find some peace. Thank you for making me realize that I'm not alone in my anger or in my pain.

  3. I, too, lost both parents to cigarettes. Awful. Sad. Heartbreaking. I will never be the same.

  4. CVS Caremark, the country’s largest drugstore chain in overall sales, announced on Wednesday that it planned to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by October. It is a start hopefully others will follow.

  5. My sincere sympathy goes out to you! My dear, sweet dad passed away on April 2, 2005 from COPD and Emphysema. It was one of the most degrading and horrifying deaths anyone should ever have to suffer. I lost my sister and Best Friend Sue, on June 8, 2001 from small cell Lung cancer. There isn't a day goes by that my heart doesn't ache from want to see and hear and touch those two. My mom passed away from histiocytic lymphoma on November 14, 1981. They said it wasn't smoking related, but I have my doubts. Unbelievably, through every single one of those deaths, I STILL continued to smoke....that says something for the ADDICTION to nicotine. I FINALLY had enough on Dec. 1, 2013, and, with the help of an e-cig, I have not had a cigarette since. The e-cig has nicotine in it, but I've already cut back on the strength. My hope is to get cut clear down to ZERO within this year. PLEASE if you don't smoke, Good for You! Don't ever start! If you DO SMOKE keep trying to quit! Persistence pays off, never stop quitting!

  6. Much love and comfort to you, my dear friend. Xoxoxo

  7. A friend shared your post on addiction on FB, which led me here. This post and your post on Philip Seymour Hoffman and depression both resonated with me intensely. I so understand that just wanting one more time - one more breakfast, one more drive, one more sitting around talking about whatever. I lost my dad five years ago (suicide, not cancer). It is crushing to lose a parent, and it's terrible knowing that if the world were different, our loved ones could still be with us. My mom is a lifelong smoker who has been trying to quit for years. I hate it, hate cigarettes, and fear the possibilities every time she gets sick, has a scan, has a medical test. And finally, that Jim Croce song makes me cry every time. (This comment is kind of all over - sorry.)

  8. This is absolutely beautiful. Your love for your father shines through every single word.

    I would like to add, as a "former smoker" (who falls of the damn wagon all the time) thank you for calling it an addiction. I hate when it's referred to as a habit. You can quit a habit.

  9. My dad died 19 years ago this May. I miss him every day. Hugs to you.


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