I stumbled across my old, favorite ashtray this week. It was originally part of a set of Fiestaware dishes I bought at a neighbor’s garage sale back in 1979. I wanted the dinner ware because my old, odds and ends thrift store plates and bowls weren’t very attractive. The fire-orange ashtray became a proud accessory on the coffee table in the music room of my first Norfolk, Nebraska apartment.
Back in those days, I was a two or more pack a day “Merit Ultra-Lights Menthol” cigarette smoker. I was so addicted that I always had a carton of smokes in the house and one tucked under the driver’s seat of the car. Whenever the supply became low, I anxiously purchased another two cartons at the supermarket. Cigarettes were more affordable then–around $15 per carton. Also, buying by the carton brought the per-pack price down about a dime apiece.
I began the tobacco habit in 1975, shortly after I discovered that my younger brother, Mark, had been secretly smoking for approximately a year. His first brand was “Taryton”. He liked the brand because of the slogan, “I’d rather fight than switch.” The ads usually featured a model sporting a black eye. He convinced me to try one. It tasted nasty, but I liked the dizzy sensation it left.
Mark said he started regular smoking after he discovered dad’s stash of “Montclair” cartons in the basement deep-freezer. He took one of the packs from an already opened carton. However, Mark’s first cigarette was a “Taryton” given to him by his friend Gary. Meantime, I didn’t like the flavor of “Tarytons”, so I quickly switched to “Winston” in the red pack. That was my go-to brand until I switched to smoking “Kool” cigarettes around 1980. My last brand was “Merit Ultra-Lights”.
As is the case regarding many legal vices, my cigarette addiction started within and was reinforced by my family’s tobacco culture. Dad smoked pipe tobacco and cigarettes for many years. Both of my grandfathers had been smokers as well.
The grandfathers both quit smoking after health concerns. My maternal grandfather worried about a cancerous growth on his lip. My paternal grandfather was hospitalized for emphysema and had to stop smoking right away. Dad stopped smoking after developing a nagging cough. My brother smoked cigarettes until the day he died. He expired during emergency heart surgery because of smoking related heart disease. I stopped smoking a few decades ago because I had earlier vowed to quit cigarettes if I ever developed a smoker’s cough. I followed through on the promise.
While tobacco is one of the most common, insidious vices in the world, it’s not the only one. We are familiar with alcohol consumption, prostitution, the sale of illicit drugs, and other nonviolent criminal activity.
There are also more serious forms of vice. Organized crime, political and corporate corruption, pirates, desperadoes, and petty criminals exist in their violent subcultures. This type of vice victimizes people for huge profits. Vice related crime runs the gamut from small-time drug dealers, to gold and diamond mining associated slave trading.
It’s the global slave trade that is the most troublesome form of criminal vice. Slavery is perhaps the most cruel vice known to humanity.
Regardless of the severity of vice, it stems from foibles, personal failing, personality flaws, or some other form of suffering.
The proliferation of vice and the profit from vice promotes the cynical view that everything is a racket. This contributes to confusion and harm to everyone it touches. The ever-increasing, parasitic nature of crime that surrounds vice harms society.
The way I see it, vice is born in suffering and proliferates among fellow sufferers. In a world of pain, the final sin is willful ignorance. The most effective way to address vice is to diminish human suffering and ignorance. This requires compassionate education and mindful living.