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Stamping out student smoking

I'VE NEVER put a cigarette to my lips, but I've probably smoked a thousand or so in my lifetime. Second-hand smoke was a part of growing up in my house -- it's one of those smells that takes me back to the good old days. And I'm no stranger to seeing packs of cigarettes lying around either. Both my parents smoke, and have done so throughout my life.

And they've never tried to hide it from me either. In the pantry, right along side the Rice Krispies, always sits a box of Merit Ultra Lights, and there's always an ashtray or two on the coffee table in the den. Whenever I asked my mom about her habit, she would just tell me never to start. But she never really said I wasn't allowed to.

In peer pressure-ridden high school I didn't smoke and even after I began college, a high-stress environment where smoking isn't given a second thought, I never wanted to. I can think of tons of reasons why I bucked this common teenage trend, but I can't understand why others choose the other path and fall prey to the nicotine gods.

This week, all those who smoke have the chance to try life without this less-than-desirable addiction. Today, the American Cancer Society is sponsoring the 23rd annual Great American Smokeout, in which the ACS asks that all smokers quit for one day. I encourage all University students who smoke to take this challenge and see what life is like without the nicotine, without the tar, and without the life-threatening effects. But if that doesn't move you to quit for good, consider these reasons.

For starters, it stinks. Literally. The smoke smell only is appealing on firefighters, and then only if they are the stud-calendar type. While many University students think quite highly of themselves, none of them are terrific enough to get away with a smoky scent, brown teeth and hacking cough.

And let's talk about that hacking cough. All types of cigarettes contain more than 300 poisons, according to the ACS. These poisons are dangerous to a person's health and are lethal at higher doses. Cigarettes also can cause heart and other cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, permanent lung damage and lung cancer. Smokers' taste sensation also may decrease because they can lose up to 20 percent of their sense of smell. But perhaps the most disturbing fact of all, according to the ACS, is that one out of every five deaths in America is smoking-related.

But college students are invincible, right? If we can drink insane amounts of liquor and emerge without a scratch, why should we heed the warnings of health professionals and those who have felt the harmful effects of cigarette smoking? And what do those people know anyway, right?

There it is again, good old teenage rebellion. Many young adults take up smoking -- among other vices -- because all the adults along the way told them that they weren't allowed. There's a thrill in defying authority, but by the time we get to college, we can smoke legally. The defiant nature of the habit ceases to exist, and smoking quickly turns from sexy to sickening. But perhaps students don't realize the dangers of smoking because you never hear of a college student dying from smoking. That's because smoking can be different than alcohol. They are both addictions -- borne many times from teenage rebellion -- but smoking doesn't turn ugly until it's too late. Teenage smokers quickly turn into adult and then elderly smokers, unable to kick the habit after so many years. A smoker may die prematurely or be forced to live with a debilitating facial disfiguration, and all as a result of starting to smoke at a young age because it was cool, or because a parent forbade it and made it a challenge.

That's why I think I never wanted to start smoking. My parents never made it a challenge for me. They never said that, if they caught me smoking, they would lock me in my room or ground me for eternity. They never gave me a reason to rebel against their rules. I never smoked simply to spite them, as many young kids do today.

The cigarettes were always there, and I doubt that if I took any, my mother or father would notice. It's sad, but my parents just lived quietly with their habit. Little did they know that they were giving me the best lesson about smoking, one that I couldn't have learned in a high school health class. I saw my mom turn to smoking -- instead of exercise -- to relieve stress, and I heard my dad's uncomfortable cough every morning. I learned that smoking was unhealthy, unattractive and most definitely not for me.

The Great American Smokeout is a good idea. If you smoke, participate in it today. And tomorrow and the next day.

(Erin Perucci is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)


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