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Addictions and Liability
by Gerald K. McOscar, Esq.
25 November 2002

I had my first cigarette when I was about 10. My mother smoked Kents and my father smoked Camels, so it had to be one of those.

My parents knew of course. They didn’t approve but they knew. But smoking was no big deal in the 50s. It was a rite-of passage before it was a crime.

Besides, they had more important things on their mind.:like feeding four hungry boys, making sure our homework was done and dragging us kicking and screaming out of bed and off to school each day ( always with a breakfast of hot oatmeal whether we wanted the hideous stuff or not ). How times have changed. Back then chaos and cacophony were normal. Today it’s called dysfunction and abuse.
Cigars entered the mix several years later. I preferred the cigarillo-type Phillies cheroot, the perfect size and shape for a boy of 17, not ridiculously big yet possessing a certain cowboy cachet to help flesh-out ( so I though) my anemic self-image.

Years later the rituals and sensations of smoking remain vivid: the tapping of the firm, squat pack against the back of the hand, the crinkling of cellophane, the sharp olfactory jolt of burning sulfur, the sexiness of a burning match in a cupped hand, the anticipation, the satiation, the sense of well-being, the mystique of it all, like a cold dry martini at the end of the day. No wonder smoking and drinking go hand-in-hand.....double the pleasure, double the fun.

I had no particular brand loyalty: Lucky strikes, Camels, Kents, Cheroots were all the same to me. Then I stopped as suddenly as I had begun, cigarettes in my 20s, cigars in my 30s.

Fifteen years later I remember my last cigar as if it were yesterday. Standing by the water’s edge at the Jersey shore, I glanced at the expensive cigar in my hand, flicked it into the bay and walked away. No reason, no regrets, no withdrawal.

Now I’m no saint, but when it comes to addictions, and vices, and sins neither am I an anomaly .Like most people, my addictions are many and varied: in my misspent youth an occasional drink too many, emotional whiplash caused by too many pretty faces and tight abs, chocolate, ah chocolate, Double Whoppers with cheese, you name it. I’ve tried them all, I’ve enjoyed them all, I’ve abused them all.

Here is where I part company with those who believe that smoking is addictive. Addiction is simply the physiological and psychological fallout caused by overindulgence in one of life’s guilty pleasures. Most people suffer the pains and pleasures of numerous addictions over the span of a lifetime.

Addictions are easily transferrable, transmutable and adaptable .Addiction to cigarettes today becomes an addiction to food tomorrow and an addiction to golf at retirement. We are serially addicted.

This infinite possibility for addiction is the crux of the matter. If smoking is addictive, then Microsoft should worry that a while back the Canadian Medical Association reports that Internet Addiction Disorder ( IAD) has entered the lexicon of medicine and is as real as alcoholism.

The liquor industry should worry because......well because it’s the liquor industry....and resort hotels and tanning lotion makers who promote unprotected sunbathing should worry about their legal liability for skin cancer among sun worshipers. Tobacco companies were yesterday’s demons and the trial lawyers have McDonalds in their sights. Who’s next?

Come to think of it, the uncontrollable urge to change the world ( and to make a few bucks doing it) accompanied by feelings of paternalism, grandiosity, self- righteousness and uncommon wisdom might itself be an addiction. If so, plaintiffs’ lawyers, regulators and certain politicians are especially at risk.

Email Gerald K. McOscar