I walked to town last week, down Water St., along the river. As I approached the pedestrian bridge, I saw a young woman sitting by herself on a cement parking bumper. I guess she was in her teens; I knew she was smoking a cigarette.

Smoking cigarettes has terrible effects on people’s health and it saddens me when I see anyone smoking; that is especially true of young smokers. As I approached the young woman, I considered saying something to her about the way I feel; I quickly decided not to.

Three steps past her, as if I had walked into a wall, I stopped. I turned back to the young smoker and told her how I feel about young people smoking. It wasn’t as if I decided to talk with her; I just turned around and did.

I told her I felt sad to see her smoking; she asked me why? I feel sad I said because smoking cigarettes will harm your health and the health of those near you while you smoke. I feel sad I said because for as long as you smoke, you increase your chances of getting cancer and heart disease. I feel sad I said because for as long as you smoke, you increase your chances for an early death.

We talked for a few minutes. She knew smoking was not good for her health. She mentioned that she had stopped about a year ago. She mentioned how peer pressure got her to start again. Clearly, she had had this conversation before.

We said goodbye and I left her alone with her thoughts and her habit.

If young people started openly using heroin or cocaine downtown, it would be stopped almost before it started. Yet…

  • Smoking cigarettes will give more people cancer and heart disease (including non-smokers) and kill more people this year than the combined effects of all other addictive drugs. Still, cigarettes are legal.
  • We have a zero-tolerance policy for use or abuse of addictive drugs, whether illegal or prescription, but we allow one of the most deadly and addictive drugs known to be used openly by adults.
  • Other addictive drugs are either sold by prescription or they are illegal. At the same time, one of the most deadly and addictive drugs we know of is sold in the open in front of young, impressionable children.
  • As a society, we strictly regulate addictive drugs and punish those who use them but at the same time we look the other way when we see under-age smokers.

Why? Why do we as a society allow this to continue? Do we not care about the health of our children? It certainly seems that way.

Will my conversation with the young smoker have any effect on her? Will our conversation bring about change in her life? As addictive as cigarettes are, probably not. But there is a chance our conversation will be a tipping point in her life as a smoker; I hope so.

Do you know a young person who smokes? If so, talk with her. Encourage/support him to stop smoking. Little things can have big consequences. Sometimes one person can make a difference; be that person!