Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 11:57 pm | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: Years of Carefree Coolness Go Up in Smoke

Smoking hasn't killed me, but it sure put the fear of death in me — decades later than it should have

I quit smoking 25 years ago. Before that, I had tried eight times, and each time I failed.

Three things finally got me to quit, cold turkey, forever:

» My then husband, who hated the smell, the smoke, the whole nine yards of living with someone who can’t even tell when they are stinking up the house and the car.

» The fact that I wanted to have children.

» A passage I read in a book I can’t otherwise remember about a woman who goes back to her college class reunion and discovers that, indeed, the people who were the big smokers and the big drinkers were the ones who didn’t live to reunite. I didn’t want to be one of those people.

But in the years since, as I have grown older and realized how unbelievably stupid — not cool, not hip, not the least bit certain to make me thin — it was to have smoked all those years, the disease that has terrified me more than any other is lung cancer.

And then, 11 years ago, my best friend, Judy, died of lung cancer. “Did she smoke?” everyone asked me, as if that made her responsible for her fatal illness. As it happened, she did not. Neither did Rosie, my beloved nanny/housekeeper/family member of 25 years who was diagnosed two years ago, thankfully at an earlier stage where surgery is possible. Knock on wood, so far so good, May God bless her.

Lung cancer is probably the only disease where we are so quick to blame the person who has it, as if they somehow deserve it. Do we blame heart attack patients for years of eating burgers and not working out? One of the reasons, I think, that this most deadly cancer has not been researched in the way more popular — but not more dangerous — cancers have is because of this blame game.

Knowing all this, having railed against those who would blame the victim, I still blame myself for all those years of smoking. Why did I do it? Didn’t I understand the long-term consequences? Didn’t I care?

Not then. When you’re young, you can’t imagine being in your 50s and literally being terrified waiting for the CT scan. A new study, which was cut short last November because the findings were so clear, has established that low-dose CT scans given to people who smoked the equivalent of one pack a day for 30 years cut the death rate of lung cancer as compared to X-ray screening by 20 percent.

So there I sat, terrified, beating myself up for the mistakes I made when I was 16. The test was fine. I sit here now breathing sighs of relief. But I also know that when I step outside, there will be kids younger than my own breathing that poison in without even thinking about the fact that a few decades down the road they will be sitting where I sit — if they’re lucky.

I talked to my wonderful doctor, telling him how stupid I feel about all those years of smoking. He reassured me. It was different then. We smoked in restaurants and airplanes; we certainly smoked in the office. I used to chain smoke through my law school exams. Smoking was socially acceptable. My mother had boxes containing cigarettes that she would put out for company — and that I would steal.

But if it was so different then, why do I keep seeing kids in front of buildings and at bus stops puffing away? Haven’t they gotten the message? Why are so many Hollywood stars — role models, supposedly — photographed with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths?

I don’t blame anyone for getting lung cancer — even if they did smoke. I’d like to take the blame out of it and replace it with research money. But I would also like to shake up these young people who are setting themselves up for an addiction that could kill them, and for decades of worry even if it doesn’t.

If only I knew how.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.