By Amy Phillips Penn

“God likes to watch. He’s a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do? I swear for His own amusement, His own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It’s the goof of all time. Look but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, don’t swallow,” fumes John Milton (a.k.a. Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate).

Mayor Bloomberg, God-bless-his-well-meaning-soul, is trying to pass legislature mandating that stores keep cigarettes out of sight—ergo out of mind, mouth, lungs, and the basket of causes contributing to health care costs.

At a news conference, Bloomberg asserted that his proposal would make New York the first city in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight. He also noted that smoking remains a leading cause of preventable death, killing 7,000 New Yorkers a year.

“While cracking down on smoking may seem like a no-brainer given the clear link with cancer, Mr. Bloomberg’s latest proposal could meet with stiff resistance from the operators of bodegas and other small stores, where cigarettes, like bottled water and lottery tickets, account for a large percentage of sales.

Thank you, New York Times,

The Mayor’s main opponent? Our non-partisan human nature, of course, which yearns, chases, and rationalizes what it “must” have.

We exhale the rational and inhale rebellious satisfaction. Years of marketing cigarettes as sexy, cool and theatrical don’t disappear in one perfectly practiced smoke ring. If anything, resistance ignites their allure.

Back in the 1950s, ads pictured babies (human infants, yes) telling their mothers they could use a cigarette: “Before you scold me mom, you’d better light up a Marlboro.”

Celebrities endorsed their alleged favorites: Tyrone Power, Lucille Ball, and Ronald Reagan said yes to Chesterfield.

“It’s what’s up front that counts,” Winston daringly dangles in phallic images.

“Blow in her face and she will follow you anywhere,” really Tipalet?

And the infamous voice of authority: “More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

Smoking was a relationship I could have skipped. The only fun part was going up to an attractive man and asking for a light. Period.

I went to Hewitt’s, a small New York private school. Their rules about smoking were clearly inked in our school constitution, along with regulations on pink lipstick, gold studs, and our prescribed skirt length (middle of the knee).

When I was a freshman, seniors had “the privilege” of smoking one cigarette at lunch or in the senior lounge. Parental permission was required.

By the time I was a senior, this privilege was no longer. The hazards of smoking were gaining attention in the press. Now, it was no smoking in uniform and no smoking in the street, even out of uniform (expulsion implied).

But cigarettes were still available everywhere: stationary stores, restaurants, clubs and at home. There was no need to go into a tobacco store unless you wanted pipes, tobacco or chew.

That summer, my parents’ friends’ pool house burned to the ground. Their teenage daughter thought she’d found a safe smoking hideout for her and her friends. Little did they know, they were playing with fire.

The punishment? They had to pay for the cigarettes.

That seemed like a minor and ludicrous price to pay, so I lit up at the beach, right in front of my cousins, who promptly told their mother, who called my mother. My mother told my aunt I had had smoking permission for years, hung up the phone, then grounded me.

We rented a second car, a powder blue MG, that summer. One August afternoon, my mother took a photo of my father in the convertible. He was handsome, healthy, and happy at 37-years-old.

Three hours later, he was at Southampton Hospital, after suffering a massive heart attack. The cause? Camels unfiltered, combined with genes. He made it through. Several more heart attacks and operations later, he gave his “all” to quitting, but his “all” wasn’t enough.

At a certain point, I vowed never to put anything harmful in my body, Chile Relleno burritos, excluded. I stopped smoking gradually, with cigarettes always available, in plain sight rather than make myself vulnerable to a nicotine induced panic attack.

To quit or not to quit?

Said David Lynch, “I quit smoking in December. I’m really depressed about it. I love smoking, I love fire, I miss lighting cigarettes. I like the whole thing about it, to me it turns into the artist’s life, and now people like Bloomberg have made animals out of smokers, and they think that if they stop smoking everyone will live forever.”

Ex-smokers are a breed unto themselves. They can be the most nauseatingly judgmental. And the authors of unrequited love stories for passions unfulfilled.

Mayor Bloomberg, we salute you for all that you do in trying to keep us healthy and aware. No parent could do more.

But should the bill pass, the cigarettes will be out of sight while nearby signage sparks “come hither, one and all.”

A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” quoth Oscar Wilde.

What more indeed?

Featured photo courtesy of NPR

Dedicated to the memory of my father, Lewis Phillips, who made it to his 80s and died a quiet death in East Hampton.

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