My First Cigarette
I had just graduated from high school and I was in the beginning stages of coming to terms with faggotry. A boy I had known through a summer camp invited me up to his family’s house in… some rich east burb of the metro area.
Thinking this boy to be so much more experienced and sure of himself than I am, I accept his offer when he hands me an American Spirit-Black. I didn't inhale, but that was the beginning of smoking a pack a day for 2 years.
American Spirit is a racist brand. Just look at its logo! It would be easy to say even if there wasn’t a racist caricature on the pack. Big Tobacco is full of billionaires whose wealth can be traced back to slavery, colonialism and genocide.
Pre-1950, an Acre of Tobacco from seeding to selling took over 400 hours. To put that in a bigger picture: Thomas Jefferson ran a plantation of over 1500 acres and for 25 years grew mostly tobacco. Plantation owners like Jefferson didn’t do the work themselves. American slavery began in concordance with the growth of Tobacco and so the 400 hours per acre was back breaking work carried out by Black slaves.
The oldest “business” in the United states is a plantation (much like Monticello, Jefferson’s abode) and every plantation in the United states can be traced to a figure a public school child in MN learns about in 7th grade American History. The oldest plantation can be traced to Robert E. Lee. A white supremacist general of the Confederate south.
Pre-1750, about 75% of the colonies exports were Tobacco which the English crown had exclusive rights over. It’s easy to acknowledge that the King of England and Thomas Jefferson were both white, and the money that they both made off of the sale of Tobacco affected the lives of their heirs— whose progeny can be found in the world to this day.
I guess what I’m trying to say it that when I accepted the cigarette handed to me that night in the dark streets of Wealthopolis, Minnesota I wasn’t rebelling or making my own choice. I was making a choice that generations of white people made before me. I’m lucky that I started after the age of 18, because data suggests that it’s easier to kick the habit. Whatever age I was, it wasn’t too early to realize that corporate tobacco and White Supremacy walk hand in hand. Health isn’t just in the now, its in the past and the future. What does community health mean when there is a history of Black people being experimented on? What does community health mean when we forget that gynecology is a science built off of plantation money? What does community health look like when the future of health is uncertain for many.
There are so many beginnings, and there will be an ending.
Quitting smoking was one of the best decisions of my life.