Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: I’m tired of negative stories about cigarettes

Cigarettes get a bad rap. Tom Sorensen is tired of it.
Cigarettes get a bad rap. Tom Sorensen is tired of it. Getty Images

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on May 25, 1990:

I am really tired of all the negative stories about cigarettes.

Every time I pick up a newspaper or magazine, I read another story about all the people killed by cigarettes. According to the U.S. government, 390,000 people in this country are killed every year by cigarettes.

But what about the people who have not yet been killed by cigarettes? Why don’t I read about them? There are a lot of people smoking a cigarette right now. They aren’t dead.

Some will die before they finish this column, but not most. Maybe the cigarette between their fingers is the last in the pack. Maybe when they finish it, they’ll have to get up and walk to their car and drive to the store.

And when they get to the store, they’ll have to get out of their car and walk to the cigarette machine, put in $1.50, pull a lever, bend over and pick the pack of cigarettes from the machine. Cigarettes have many benefits. Exercise is merely one of them.

But you wouldn’t know about the benefits by listening to Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan. What kind of guy wants to be a secretary, I don’t know, but that’s Lou’s business and not mine. A guy I went to high school with is a nurse. Ask me if I care.

Secretary Louis told a Senate Finance Committee Thursday that cigarette machines should be banned. Excuse me, Secretary Louis, but don’t you have a letter to take or some coffee to fetch? If you take the machines away, what will smokers do for exercise? They can still walk into the store, but since they no longer pull a lever, they will retard their upper body development.

Secretary Louis wants to ban the machines to keep miners from buying cigarettes. I think miners are entitled to smoke. After working underground all day, they are entitled to a cigarette. Secretary Louis also wants to keep minors from buying cigarettes. Most of the smokers I know started when they were kids. And most of them are still alive. Most can’t run from first to third on a single without bending over and wheezing and looking as if they are going to die. But they don’t die.

These are the success stories the media doesn’t tell you about. And the kids Secretary Louis is so worried about could be doing a lot of things much worse than smoking.

Most cigarette machines are inside. Cigarette machines keep kids off the streets. I can see a high school valedictorian walking up on stage to give his acceptance speech. “I was going bad, “ the kid says. “I was spending too much time on the streets. Then I got off the streets. I had to because the cigarette machines were inside. It changed my li – excuse me, cough, cough, hack, hack, cough, somebody get a rag, hack, hack, auughh, spit, spit, brown spit, krawkkkkk, somebody get a mop – fe. I owe all my success to cigarettes.” But you never hear about these kids, do you?

You don’t hear about the other cigarette success stories, either. Did you know that cigarettes create almost enough jobs and generate almost enough money to offset losses due to severe coughing and death?

If it weren’t for cigarettes, what would happen to The Winston, the big all-star race held Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway? If there weren’t cigarettes, Winston would withdraw as a sponsor.

“And now let’s go to the winner’s circle for an exclusive interview with Dale Earnhardt, winner of this year’s The. Yes, The. It’s The because Winston has gone out of business and won’t sponsor it anymore. Way to go, everybody. Real nice.”

All I’m asking is that we tell both sides of the story. Wait. I have an idea. Let’s pretend we have never heard of cigarettes, that they don’t exist. And then somebody invents them. And the inventor is a friend of ours. And we’re the first one he tells.

“It’s called a cigarette, “ the inventor says. “The way it works is you light one end, stick the other end in your mouth and inhale the smoke until you’re dead.

“What do you think?”

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Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen