NYC120 cover image See all stories from issue #120, December, 1995

A Family of Buttheads
Trenee Broughton

One day a few years ago some friends and I were talking about a guy we thought was cute, but he smoked. “That’s the only problem with him,” one friend said, “his breath stinks from that cigarette smoke. If he didn’t smoke, he would be perfect.”

I knew then that if I ever started smoking it would make my friends look at me in a negative way. Not long after this, I was in class when a friend asked if she could borrow a pencil. “Sure, look in my bookbag,” I said.

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Before my friend got the pencil, she asked me, “Have you been smoking reefer?”

I was astonished. What made her ask such question? “Of course not,” I replied.

“Then why does it smell like smoke?” she asked.

Smokers in the House

Then it hit me. My family’s cigarette smoke had seeped into my bookbag. People would now think that I was smoking because my bookbag smelled like Vantage Blues and Newports. I went home that afternoon feeling angry.

Out of the eight people I live with, four smoke—my dad, my aunt, and two uncles. I’m with them every day from the time I get home from school until the time I go to sleep. I smell their smoke after dinner and when we watch TV. Even when we go out to eat or have picnics in the park, they always have to have a cigarette at some point. I hate the feeling of their thick toxic smoke creeping down to my lungs, expanding around them like foam.

I told my family what happened at school and complained to them about how their smoking affects my life, too. I begged them to stop smoking. I got the same answer that I got every other time I asked them to quit.

‘I’ll Quit. . .Someday’

They say, “I’m going to start cutting down on the cigarettes.” But they never do.

Sometimes my aunt or my father will ask me to get them a cigarette, or they will leave the room and forget to put their cigarettes out, so I have to do it. Just touching their cigarettes makes me cringe. Afterwards, I wash my hands frantically, trying to get the nauseating scent off.

My grandmother started wearing a surgical mask around the house to keep other people’s smoke from going down her lungs. She used to be a smoker, too. Then, right around the time my friend smelled smoke in my bag, the doctor told my grandmother she had to quit— immediately. And she did, no ifs, ands or buts about it. She tells my aunt, my father and my two uncles all the time that their smoke is bothering her, but they still won’t stop.

Once at a school fair I got photos of what the lung looks like when it is exposed to cigarette smoke, and showed them to my family. They took one look at them and continued to smoke.

Good for the Nerves?

My aunt thinks that smoking is good for her nerves. She says that it relaxes her. To my father, it’s “just a habit” that he started when he was around 18, to look more grown-up.

A couple of months ago, when my father was putting out one of his cigarettes because I asked him to, he told me, “I better not ever catch you with a cigarette in your mouth.”

He meant it like, “You’re bothering me so much that if you ever pick up the habit, I’m going to badger you the same way you’re badgering me.” But the bad thing was, he wasn’t taking the risks of smoking seriously. I looked at him and said, “You don’t even have to worry about me ever smoking.”

I’m convinced that smoking is deadly and can cause more harm than people think. Why else would the government make it illegal to smoke in public areas like restaurants, airplanes, and movie theaters?

I’m glad there are anti-smoking laws because it’s not only family members who bother me when they smoke. I hate it when I’m outside and I happen to be right behind some smoker who puffs cigarettes right in my face and in my nose. I get very dizzy and feel like kicking the person in front of me. I try to inhale to just get fresh air in, but it’s impossible. Smokers are killing themselves slowly, taking us non-smokers with them.

Bad Breath, Lung Cancer, Nicotine Fits

I promised myself a long time ago that when I have my own house, I will create a smoke-free environment for me and my children. I will eliminate the risk of becoming a middle-aged woman with bad breath, lung cancer and nicotine fits by never putting a cigarette in my mouth. I have the right to live a healthy life and I want to live for a very long time.

I’m leaving for college next year and I will probably live in a dorm. I’m looking forward to getting away from my family’s smoke during the school year. But I still really want my relatives to see the importance of providing a smoke-free home for themselves, my grandmother, my younger sister and me.

Nowadays I draw attention to their habit by running to open a window when they light up or turning my head away abruptly. They usually puff a couple more times, but then sometimes they’ll put the cigarettes out. At those particular moments, I feel that they understand what I’ve been complaining about for so long and I’m encouraged to continue seeking ways to get them to quit smoking. Maybe someday they will listen.

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