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by Abigail Van Buren

Young Servicemen Paid a Price for Cheap Cigarettes During War

DEAR ABBY: In 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I was a 17-year-old seaman on a destroyer in the North Atlantic. There were several other teen-agers on board. We all smoked, as did the rest of the crew. Cigarettes were 6 cents a pack. At that price, the saying was, we couldn't afford NOT to smoke.

We happily discussed the merits of Lucky Strikes, Camels and Chesterfields. Old Golds and Pall Malls were not as popular; Kools were for sissies. None of us realized that all the brands we smoked contained the same poisonous, addictive substances. People who didn't smoke were considered odd. If they didn't like to be around smokers, THEY were the ones with the problem.

It wasn't until years later that I realized the purpose of selling cigarettes so cheaply to servicemen was to get our generation hooked for the profit of tobacco companies. My addiction lasted until after I was married and had small children. Fortunately, I realized in time that if I was going to live to see them grow up, I was going to have to kick the habit -- and by the grace of God I was able to.

Why am I writing this? Because two of my grandsons have succumbed to the slick advertising and lies of the tobacco companies in spite of warnings from those who love them most. I pray they'll realize the self-destructiveness of the habit before they're as old as I was when I knew I had to quit in order to live.

Keep up the good work, Abby, and God bless. -- LEON J. SIMS, DORAVILLE, GA.

DEAR LEON: If your grandsons refuse to listen to you, perhaps they can learn from the letter that follows. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I have asked my wife, Martha, to send this to you immediately upon my death. I want teen-agers to know I died from a self-inflicted disease -- smoking.

Back in the 1940s, a majority of Americans smoked. It was the ADULT thing to do. I "knew" I wouldn't get hooked. We knew smoking wasn't good for us, but we were willing to take our chances. We called cigarettes "coffin nails" and laughed as we lit up.

Years later, I was diagnosed with emphysema. My heart was weakened because it had enlarged, trying to pump blood into lungs that could no longer expand. I had to stop smoking or die an early death from a heart attack, stroke, cancer or slow suffocation. "No sweat," I thought. "I can quit anytime." How wrong I was.

I spent more than $1,000 on smoking-cessation programs. I tried acupuncture, hypnosis, gum, patches, pills and cold turkey. Nothing worked. I was addicted, dying and couldn't quit.

You say you want "freedom"? How free are you when you want to go dancing or hiking but can't because your nose is hooked to plastic tubing attached to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day, just so you can breathe?

I could have had 20 more years of active, healthy, productive life. I could have bought a new car with the thousands I spent on cigarettes, doctors and oxygen equipment. I could have had more happy years with my loving wife. I chose to smoke instead.

Abby, I wish I had listened to my dad. He once told me, "Graveyards are filled with people who said, 'It won't happen to me.'" -- BERT HUDSON, SAND COULEE, MONT.

DEAR READERS: Bert Hudson died on March 11. My deepest sympathy goes out to his widow, Martha, as well as my thanks for forwarding her husband's letter. I'm honored to print it. I pray it has an impact. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2001, 172,000 cancer deaths will be attributable to tobacco use.