Bill Keller

Bill Keller is a retired journalist who previously served as the executive director of the Alabama Press Association and as a journalism faculty member at the University of Alabama.

A pack of cigarettes costs $5.93 at a drug store, the packs all stacked up behind the checkout counter, I noticed today.

That caught my attention. My father smoked, I smoked.

Dad once said he’d quit when the price of a pack made it to 25 cents.

Started in high school

He kept on smoking, but told his children that it was a bad habit.

“I’d rather see you with a can of beer in your hand than a cigarette.”

When I began sneaking a way to buy a pack, it first cost me 35 cents, usually from a vending machine. An oak tree behind Albertville High School was designated as the smoking tree, a place where teen-age boys would grab a quick smoke between classes.

So I began to smoke some in high school and continued to smoke in college and into my adult life, first in the Air Force. At my first newspaper job, I often filled an ashtray every day.

Cigarettes and cup after cup of burned coffee were linked to work in a newsroom. Dad gradually quit. First, he tried smoking a cigar or two. Later, he chewed tobacco as he drove from fertilizer dealer to dealer around Northeast Alabama.

He’d spit out the car window. Finally, he quit. I also quit gradually, but never resorted to chewing tobacco. Back in the late 1970s, I began making an effort to avoid cigarettes, but I’d still bum one or two at a party or a business reception. So I would buy a pack to avoid bumming.

Back then, smokers lit up in meetings, at social gatherings, in stores and restaurants — like you young folks saw on the television series, “Mad Men.”

So I stopped smoking at home or in my car. I also stopped smoking at work. That left only social gatherings and business receptions, where I sometimes binge smoked. Then I stopped lighting up even at those gatherings.

Think about a raise

My sense of smell then grew much more sensitive. I could no longer hang around anywhere where smokers lit up. Strong colognes or perfumes almost made me dizzy. I worked with colleagues at two places where I worked to convince them that we needed to cut out smoking inside the office, and that angered some of them.

They later quit smoking, themselves. Today, smoking isn’t as cool, for lack of a better word, and far fewer people smoke, as we’re more aware of the dangers.

Today, it seems that most of the smokers I see are construction workers. I also see young women puffing away, standing outside office buildings downtown on their smoke breaks. At about $6 a pack, they’re spending $42 a week if they smoke a pack a day, and they could, in effect, give themselves a pay raise of almost $2,200 a year if they quit.

Heavy cigarette smoking shortened the life of three friends from the newspaper business. They died of pulmonary diseases.

One of my parents’ closest friends died of cancer linked to smoking. Only one of my first cousins has died, and smoking contributed to his heart disease. Smoking shortened the lives of other relatives, too.

Without sounding sanctimonious, we all need to try to help relatives, friends and colleagues quit, and the gradual method works.

Final thought

And $5.93 a pack?

Mercy, I had no idea the price had shot up that much.

Bill Keller is a retired journalist who previously served as the executive director of the Alabama Press Association and as a journalism faculty member at the University of Alabama.

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