Tobacco BBS--Communications from the Front THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE
April 17, 1994


On July 23, 1992, one day after my husband's death from lung cancer, I spent a good many hours trying to persuade people at The New York Times obituary department to include the sentence, "He died of lung cancer due to cigarettes." The legal department objected to these eight words. They said there was no way to prove it; but. in my grief and anger, these eight words meant more to me than the list of credits and movies my husband had made. A few days later, The Times found a way, and my husband's obituary included the sentence, "He died of lung cancer, said his wife, who noted that he was a heavy smoker." I felt satisfied.

A few months later, after a period of deep solitude and mounting, I decided to venture out into the world and went to the gala opening of the Matisse exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The first thing I saw when I entered was a large sign that said the exhibit had been underwritten by Philip Morris. It felt like a fist in the face.

I'd been to many cultural events underwritten by Philip Morris and it had always made me feel vaguely uncomfortable, but I'd always rationalized my discomfort by thinking, "At least they're doing some good with some of their profits." Now rationalizations didn't work anymore. Your headline said it succinctly: "They spread the amazing wealth and, with it, their grim responsibility."

Yes, my husband should have quit smoking, as millions of people have. I watched him try many times -- using hypnosis, acupuncture, electronic beepers that help you cut down, even cold turkey -- but he could never stick to it. Was he just weak? No, he wasn't. He was highly disciplined, hard working and strong willed. He was also addicted to a powerful drug that he had been using since he was 12 years old, back in the good old days when the cigarette companies were allowed to tell us how good cigarettes were for us. Did he know it was harmful? Of course he did, but like millions of others he found this drug habit very hard to break and so he rationalized, too--until it was too hte.

That night, at the museum opening, I bitterly wondered out loud if the museum would have proudly displayed a sign stating that the Matisse exhibit had been underwritten by some notorious drug lord or mafioso don. My friends gently reminded me that "drugs aren't legal and cigarettes are."

At this time, it is socially, economically and emotionally convenient to rationalize the politics of cigarettes, but only until you or someone you love is forced by circumstance to walk into a crowded oncology waiting room.


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