I Dare Say – Cigarettes? (11-16-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 16, 1944)



By Florence Fisher Parry

Maybe we have it coming to us – the extension of the war, I mean. It won’t do us any good now to say we were encouraged to live in this fool’s paradise. The bungling has been done and we were a party to it. We didn’t care enough; we didn’t fight hard enough here at home.

Now it’s snowing on the borders of Germany and her fortress defies death. Now on Leyte, thousands of Japs are returning, swarming up the beaches, bringing back to mind the silken warning of a Japanese general who said, after Pearl Harbor, “We are prepared to lose ten million men. How many,” he inquired of our American diplomat, “are you prepared to lose?”

How many American boys will it take to kill 10 million Japs? How many American boys will it take to destroy the last Nazi?

Gen. Eisenhower is too smart a man to say, as he did not so long ago, that if we tried hard enough, we could win the war in 1944. Now he knows. Now they all know. So pray pardon me if I get a little sick, if I turn away my eyes, when I hear of the hardships our American women endure in being deprived of their favorite brand of cigarettes, when I see the lines queue at cigar stands, mobs of women storming stores with less patience and self-control than that which is exercised by starving people in breadlines.

Purely a reflex

Not for a minute do I fool myself by underestimating the gnawing need for cigarettes which is felt by all who are now being deprived of their quota. The habit of smoking goes deep. A habitual smoker, when cut off from this habit, suffers not so much as an alcoholic suffers when deprived of liquor, but the two cravings were allied in that the indulgence builds up in the smoker, as well as in the drinker, a curious chain reflex urge, which, when thwarted, penalizes the nervous system.

It is this effect upon this reflex habit, rather than upon the physical organism of a habituee, that causes the craving. As all intelligent people know, the harmful effect of smoking is slight. It does purely superficial damage, and except in special cases, chiefly heart disease, is a comparatively harmless habit.

But to the degree that it enslaves a man or woman, chains him to the habit, makes him restless, nervous and miserable when denied its indulgence, it does become a serious, and yes, a harmful habit.

The present shortage, and the silly way smokers are reacting to it, proves this. It has also shown up the fact, long suspected, that women, because of their more complex nervous systems, suffer from the deprivation very much more acutely than men.

We can excuse men and women who are working at top speed in war work for smoking excessively; but I draw the line when it comes to idle women who are the greatest offenders of all and whose indulgence in smoking during the war has contributed largely to the present cigarette shortage.

Unwilling to sacrifice

I know only a few women who do not smoke and I testify: I have yet to meet a woman who has cut out or reduced her smoking voluntarily in order to alleviate a shortage that has become so serious that even our boys in combat are not able to get enough cigarettes.

And I say that this is shameful. If every woman in America were to take upon herself the sacrifice of going without cigarettes for one month, the shortage would dissolve.

What’s the matter of their giving up smoking? Or rationing themselves to one-half, one-third, one-fourth normal consumption? In the last war, smoking among women was not prevalent. Great tobacco companies only then were launching what proved to be one of the most brilliant advertising campaigns ever devised: a deliberate organized campaign to induce women to smoke.

I remember the first subtle, oblique overture. It was in the form of a great billboard. Two young lovers were sitting together on a hill in the moonlight. The boy was smoking a cigarette and the girl was leaning toward him saying, “Blow some my way.”

That was not long ago. Just about a quarter of a century ago. How successful this campaign for new customers worked is testified to today by millions upon millions of cigarette users among women and girls.

Thus are we made slaves of habit, a habit which even the challenge of war’s sacrifice cannot reform.