OldArchive / The Way I See It

Cancer Victim’s Obituary Offers Warning to Smokers

Asylum Township resident Ken Wizelman’s obituary in this week’s Rocket-Courier certainly ranks among the most unusual obituaries we’ve ever published. Like any obituary, it gives readers a glimpse of Ken’s life, but it goes beyond that. Ken, who died from lung cancer on April 9 when he was 63, used his obituary to pass along a stern personal warning to cigarette smokers. I urge you to read Ken’s obituary for yourself, especially if you’re a smoker. You’ll find it on page 24, and I probably don’t need to tell you that Ken’s advice to smokers is to quit now while you still can. Ken and I are from the same generation. He was born in 1947, I was born in 1946. We’re part of the post war baby boom. Most boomers smoked cigarettes at some point in their life. The nation’s attitude about smoking has changed dramatically since my fellow boomers and I were teens back in the 1960’s. If you were alive then, you know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t, I’ll give you a look at the lifestyle that prodded me, Ken Wizelman and millions of our peers to become smokers. For starters, cigarette smoking was completely acceptable when I was a teen. While neither of my parents were smokers, when someone who did smoke would visit our house, my mom would dutifully hand them an ashtray without thinking twice about it. When my parents would host a party, the next morning the entire house would wreak of stale cigarette smoke. Restaurants had ashtrays on every table and along the lunch counter. There were ashtrays in the waiting room at hospitals and doctor’s offices. Walk down the hallway at the Wyalusing Valley High School while the door to the faculty room was open and a cloud of blue smoke would usually greet you. And you’d often encounter the same cloud of smoke in the student restrooms. All of my favorite actors smoked. Most of my favorite sports figures smoked. The older kids I admired most, smoked. Most of my parents’ closest friends smoked. My dad’s parents smoked. And before I was 18, I was a smoker, too. Not only could you smoke on airplanes when I was a teen, they would give you a sample pack of five cigarettes that you could enjoy on your flight. Once they turned off the no smoking light, the plane filled with cigarette smoke. Cigarette ads were common on TV, and I can still remember some of the jingles and slogans. Do you know what LSMFT means? I do. It was printed on the bottom of each pack of Lucky Strikes and as any Lucky smoker could tell, you it stood for Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. Every tobacco company had its own catchy jingle that often was sung by a popular entertainer. Here are a couple of the most popular Winston Tastes Good, Like a (clap, clap) Cigarette Should. L&M Has Found the Secret That Unlocks the Flavor. Another commercial featured a bellboy in a crowded hotel lobby who walks toward the camera and shouts, “Call for Philip Morris.” And who could forget what was likely the most popular of all cigarette ads, the rawhide-tough Marlboro Man lighting up and then galloping off into the sunset. Smoke Raleigh cigarettes and each pack would include a coupon. Save enough coupons and you could exchange them for a household appliance, or even better, another carton of Raleighs. My grandmother Keeler smoked Chesterfields because Arthur Godfrey smoked them and she loved Arthur. Later she switched to Pall Malls but I don’t know why she gave up on Arthur. I have an old Life magazine with a full color ad on the back cover that pretty much sums up the nation’s attitude about cigarette smoking years ago. The ad features a family sitting around their Thanksgiving dinner table with all the adults enjoying a smoke, including one very distinguished looking man at the head of the table. “More Doctors Enjoy Camels Than Any Other Cigarette,” the ad’s headline stated. It went on to inform readers that doctors had found that a relaxing smoke after a big meal aided digestion. When I was in the Air Force, you could buy a pack of smokes at the BX for 19 cents and less than that if you bought a carton. During basic training, we couldn’t light up whenever we felt like it, but for the most part smoking was generally encouraged. “Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” our drill sergeant would bark after announcing that he’d given us a brief break from marching. “And you sissies who aren’t lighting up can spend a little time policing the area while your buddies are smoking.” It must have been a tough time back then for people who didn’t like being around smokers. If you worked in an office, you could likely smoke on the job, your co-workers who didn’t smoke be damned. You could smoke in Greyhound busses. You could smoke at public meetings, like the local borough council or the local school board. During the winter, people smoked in cars with all the windows rolled up. You could smoke in theatres, but not the one in Wyalusing. You could smoke in a hospital room. You could smoke in hotel rooms. You could smoke in stores. You could smoke virtually everywhere, and pretty much everyone smoked. If you want a look at just how pervasive cigarette smoking was back in the 1960’s, you need to have a look at an old commercial for Winston cigarettes featuring the characters from the popular cartoon series The Flintstones. Search for it on Google using the words Flintstones Winston commercial. You’ll end up at Youtube watching Barney, Fred and Wilma enjoying a Winston. So it’s no wonder that so many boomers became cigarette smokers. Of course nobody talked much about the dangers of smoking back in the 1960’s. We had to find that out for ourselves.

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