We hear a lot these days about the harmful effect of tobacco and vaping on young people. Seems like it takes a while before youngsters finally see the light and realize their elders were right when advising against smoking.

I remember my own experience. I was a young whippersnapper in high school. I hung out with the son of a local preacher living next door. Herbie was older, had a driver’s license and access to the family car. We rode around together and, of course, Herbie smoked. He often offered me cigarettes, and it made one feel more grown up to join the smoking crowd.

My mother, God rest her soul, smelled tobacco smoke on me after one of our rides around town and asked me if I was smoking. She warned me against becoming addicted to nicotine and insisted that I not begin this bad habit. She even emphasized her point by coming into my room puffing on a cigarette and coughing! She didn’t smoke, and I know it was unpleasant for her to make her point in this manner.

So, did I listen? No, I kept on riding around with Herbie and even started buying Lucky Strike cigarettes. Hey, I was about grown and decided to make my own judgment about tobacco use.

Camels, Chesterfields, Sir Walter Raleigh and Wings were cheaper back then. Mother told me if I didn’t stop smoking, she would join me, and both of us would suffer and develop health problems. This hung a guilt trip on me.

I made promises, but before Mother could see if they came true, I joined the Army and went off to Europe as a combat infantry soldier. The Army provided soldiers free tobacco rations and gave 10-minute training breaks. Of course, I kept on smoking with my fellow soldiers.

Hooked on nicotine. Well, yes indeed!

It wasn’t until the 1970s that I finally saw the light and realized my mother had been right from day one. Smoking is harmful.

Smoking had reduced stress and provided some comfort all the while beginning to wreak havoc on my life. A doctor giving me a physical exam kept listening to my chest until I asked if he thought I had a problem. He asked if I smoked, and I replied that I smoked cigarettes, cigars and a pipe. He informed me he suspected early signs of emphysema. He warned me that I had better quit smoking — not later, but now — before I could allow my lungs further damage and increased breathlessness! I dumped all of my tobacco products in the garbage cans outside that clinic. I quit smoking “cold turkey.” It was tough.

All these years later, I consider that warning and the action I took to be one of the wisest made in my life. If only I had listened to my mother all those years ago, I could have saved myself grief and avoided endangering my health. Live and learn. Or, should I say, learn and live.

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Jack Simpson is a former educator, a veteran, an author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each week in the weekend edition of this newspaper.

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