Freedom to smoke or freedom to choose: A difficult topic, a more difficult decision

My mother is dying; one thick cigarette-drag of black smoke at a time. And, I can’t do anything about it.

When I was eight, I would sneak into the pantry before school and write messages with a black ball-point pen on my mom’s plethora of Marlboro Ultra Lights 100’s. I’d write little notes up the stems about how much I loved her, with messages like, “please quit for me” and “someone <3’s you”. When I got home from academic team practice, she’d be on the back patio chain-smoking and drinking cups of freshly brewed Folgers by the pot-- worrying about bills or relaxing after a long day’s work. Fast forward 13 years and not much has changed, at least as it pertains to her smoking. And to make it all worse, just last week, the doctor called to tell us that my mother has emphysema. We were heartbroken… But at the same time, why wasn’t I surprised? I’ve asked my mom a thousand times why she smokes. “Why do you do it?” “Why did you start?” “Is it really worth it?” “It’s an addiction,” she’d reply. And, she is right. It may be addicting, but I can’t help but think, “is life itself not as equally addicting?” She’d also say, “I started back when I was 15 or 16. Back then… when it wasn’t even bad for you.” Except there, she is definitely wrong. It’s always been bad for you. And always will be. Even when she thought it was “cool.” Even when it was her crutch that “allowed” her to successfully raise three children and climb the corporate ladder like she has. Even when it killed her mom. Then her dad. I understand no one is perfect. People have vices. It’s a free country. “No one can tell me what I can and cannot do.” I recently met a student who uses smoking as a way to cope with anxiety. She only smokes on campus when she is secluded from everyone. She always cleans up her cigarette butts. It’s just what she says is “the little thing” she does to “make it through the day.” And to be honest, if that’s what she needs to succeed, let her do it. As long as it’s not hurting anyone else, that’s fine. Except when it allows my mom to aid her own demise. And in fact, that’s what cigarettes do. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 440,000 deaths occur annually just from smoking and secondhand smoke. So when I heard last year that NKU would be transitioning to-- not just a smoke-free but-- a tobacco-free campus, I was happy, but also felt a mixed reaction. I was ecstatic at the idea of NKU changing to promote a healthy environment. Afterall, if we are an educational institution, why would we still facilitate an environment that almost “promotes” this unhealthy behavior. However, I also love my freedoms and hate people telling me what I can and cannot do. Is this just another attempt to mold the people down into “perfected beings?” I mean what is perfect anyways? Everyone has a vice… what’s next? No Starbucks?! Regardless of what we all may think, the tobacco-free ban has passed and will be implemented in just a few more months. And I realize some of you may be unhappy about it. I obviously still have mixed feelings on the matter. But either way, listen to this last one thing. Despite of how cool you think smoking makes you look, how much you think it helps you get through your difficult days, please think deeply about what you are doing or choose a new vice. I love my mom more than I can express. She has been there for me through everything. I don’t know how much longer I have with her, yet she still continues to smoke against doctors’ orders. And, I am sure someone out there feels the same way about you. So consider this one of my last little messages, not just to my mom, but to each and every one of you: “please quit for me” cause “someone <3’s you”.