By Karin Brennan
Some of my earliest recollections are of my mother smoking. At home, in the car, in restaurants…everywhere. My brother and I hated it, because we were always waving away smoke and avoiding overflowing ashtrays. In those days, it seemed like everyone smoked.
And why not? Our parents grew up watching movies where all the glamorous stars smoked on screen, and all the “manly men” in commercials did too. My generation also remembers being stuck on international flights in the last row before the “smoking section” started. How ridiculous does that seem today? The concept that my rights as a non-smoker could be usurped by someone else who chooses to do something that undeniably creates a risk to MY life? Risk YOUR life if you must, but your rights end where mine begin.
That’s a very simplistic summary of the extensive research on second-hand smoke done over a period of years against the very powerful Tobacco Industry lobby at the time. At the end of the day, however, they lost, and away went the cigarette ads on TV, most smoking by stars in movies and, over time, by celebrities in public. Smoking became harmful to their image as well as their health. Traveling on planes, being in public places, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants became much more pleasant for everyone except the minority of people who chose to continue to smoke.
The weight of negative social pressure, plus the highly taxed cost of cigarettes themselves, continued the trend. It’s rare today to be intruded upon by that harmful habit. So, is it “Déjà Vu all over again”? We have another powerful lobby, driven by profits over the lives of citizens. Again, it’s a minority of the population (at present, approximately one third of Americans actually own the large arsenal of guns in the US), and people are dying, at least in part due to the “product”, which is an ever-expanding national arsenal of weaponry.
Unlike with second hand smoke, the government has actually blocked the scientific study of the effects of gun violence on the population. Why? We can only surmise that the facts would fly in the face of the simple (but to this point, effective) assertion that owning guns is a Second Amendment right. Most of these individuals seem to ignore the fact that individual ownership of guns was not part of the original Second Amendment writing, but added via a Supreme Court decision in 2008.
Fast forward ten years to where we are today, leading the world in unnecessary, preventable and mostly tragic gun violence deaths. Add an increasingly bitter standoff between those who choose to take the risk of living in a country where virtually anyone can acquire a military grade weapon, and those who don’t want to live with that threat to THEIR constitutional right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
So, what happens next in the history of our still relatively young democracy? It seems likely that my generation doesn’t have the answers this time, or maybe just the collective will to settle this once and for all. As my generation changed the societal norms in relation to smoking, many hopes are now pinned to the “school shooting” generation to set the standards for the next generation to come after them.
The author is a U.S. Army Cold War veteran who served 3 years as a German linguist (Army Security Agency) behind the Wall in West Berlin. She has an MBA in Marketing, and is retired after a 27 year career at IBM as a Senior Marketing Manager. She’s married and lives in Carlsbad, CA.