Rick Houser
Rick Houser
By Rick Houser
HCP columnist

From time to time, I have gone into detail about the growing of tobacco. I know I have gone into the fact that this was our cash crop, and it was for almost all farmers in the region and in the years when I farmed. I’m sure I have explained how this was the most labor-intensive crop a farmer might raise and just how hard we worked and the pride in the production of the crops we raised.

This of course is true and it does cover one side of the coin. But as time has passed, I have given it a lot of thought and feel now it is time to deliver the other side of the coin. Not only was I a tobacco farmer, I was also a tobacco user. Yes, I was a cigarette smoker. I began at a very young age and being it was the early to mid-1960s, little if any concern about this habit was ever given a thought.

Why, when I began to smoke, the surgeon general had yet to post his warning on a pack.

The truth was that in this time, smoking had yet to be exposed for what damage it can do until I was far into my days of lighting up. Also, everyone in my family smoked except my mom, and from time to time, she would light up one and do a very poor job of smoking. We were tobacco farmers, and it was only right that we supported the product we had raised. At the time, it sounded like a good reason or at least I thought it sounded good.

I think that in my pre-teens the Marshall brothers and I experimented and made several attempts at smoking. Since we didn’t have too much access to real cigarettes, we would go into the woods and find a dried weed and hollow it out and cut it to the length of the real cigarette and then grind a dried leaf up and stuff it into the weed. We then would light it up, and we would draw a puff and then pass it on. The difference was that most times there would be more coughing and turning a little green upon taking a draw. We, of course, would deny any negative effects from it, but I will confess at this time there might have been some.

As I was beginning this habit, my dad was cutting back and trying to quit. Each day, he would buy a pack of Salems and smoke some of them. When he got home, he deposited the pack in the top drawer of a file cabinet. After a while, the drawer began to overflow. That was when I figured Dad wouldn’t miss just one pack, now would he? The thing is every few days I would think he wouldn’t miss another until one morning my dad sat me down and said “I know you are using my cigarettes. Smoking is a bad habit (he had a lit one in his hand.) You shouldn’t smoke, but if you are you will have to buy your own.”

That ended the trips to the file cabinet.

When I first began smoking, I was farming and most days the wind would burn away most of a cigarette and I would be too busy to smoke very many. However, as I began to work away from the farm, I held positions where I did much more sitting at a desk than working outside. Even though we were in the 1970s, smoking was still not only acceptable, but just second nature. When I worked in a bank as a teller, I had an ash tray at my teller’s window and not one person ever commented.

In the 1980s, things hadn’t yet changed and my desk always had room for a huge ash tray. Needless to say as time passed and the more I was at a desk, the more I smoked.

My sister and brother both were smokers, but they smoked Kool filters. It seemed that when we were all together I would end up bumming from them, and when I would offer them a Salem they refused, and said they didn’t like them. So I got the bright idea that I would change to Kools so I could repay them when the time offered. But I never stopped smoking Salems. It wasn’t long until I was smoking both brands and had quickly doubled my habit from two packs a day to four packs a day.

It was safe to say I was way out of control and what I kept telling my wife that I could handle it. (Who was I kidding?)

Another little item that didn’t stop me was that my wife was allergic to smoke. Now, I wasn’t raising tobacco anymore and the AMA had taken on the tobacco industry and began to get restraints on those who used tobacco in any way. Chew and dip never entered my desire to use. But as time passed, the price per pack rose quickly. At this time, I swore I would stop if the cost passed a dollar a pack.

I must admit that I can be a little bit stubborn. This was no truer than at this time in my life. As my smoking had hit an all-time high, I was dealing with rougher cases of bronchitis and more severe sinus conditions. A couple of times I developed pneumonia. But I continued. I was fast approaching the point of breathing becoming an option.

That was until one day I was at work and at 4:20 p.m. on March 25, 1985, and I began to remove a cigarette from the pack and stopped. I was feeling so bad that I put it back and thought I will just wait until I get home. Once home, I again thought and decided I will wait until after supper. This went on the rest of the night and as I went into the next day, I have yet to take the next smoke.

As much as I prided myself in the crops of tobacco I grew, and the very good prices I would get at the warehouse, I will tell you all this. I am so very much more proud of the fact I quit smoking. Fortunately, to this day I have little damage from my days of fogging up. That is just plain good luck for me. So I guess this story really ends happily.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you wish he may be able to speak to your group. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.