From Tobacco Farms to Tobacco-Free


When I was in elementary school, my uncle owned a small tobacco farm in rural southern Va. I remember spending summers playing on the farm and running through the tobacco crops with my cousins. Playing with the tobacco worms is one of my most vivid memories. The bright green, fat silky tobacco worms seemed harmless enough to pick up and play with. That’s what we did when we weren’t making up games to play. Those were fun times for us as kids.

However, I also remember vividly how my closest cousin would have severe asthma attacks when she was around people who were smoking. I remember countless trips to the emergency room with her and the helplessness we felt during those trips.

Those weren’t fun times for us as kids.

It’s now been over 20 years since we played on that farm or took a trip to the emergency room because of my cousin’s asthma attacks, and my cousins and I all have children of our own. However, our children will never have memories similar to ours – playing on tobacco farms, playing with tobacco worms, or smoke-induced asthma attacks. Why? Because we got older and wiser.
I remember how our country was learning more and more about the impact of tobacco use as we progressed through school. I remember earlier media messages highlighting preventing careless smoking to prevent forest fires, not messages about not smoking to prevent deaths. As we got older, those messages started changing and people started learning that tobacco was linked to cancer and death.

We started seeing fewer tobacco product ads and more warning labels. We’ve learned that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. We’ve learned that smoking is responsible for nearly $96 billion in medical costs and $97 billion in productivity costs. We’ve learned that tobacco use causes almost 450,000 early deaths each year among both smokers and non-smokers. We’ve also learned that even when we’re eating dinner outside at our favorite restaurant, we can inhale cancer-causing chemicals from the cigarette smoke of the person sitting at the table next to us.
Yet, despite how much we’ve learned over the years, I still see people smoking on their breaks at work, in the car with their children, in their homes, at the playground and in private clubs. I see people – especially kids under age 18 – becoming excited about the prospect of smoking hookah and using electronic cigarettes. I see people chewing tobacco. I see people continuing to put their lives at risk.

This year, let’s all start making new memories by taking the first step in quitting or helping someone quit tobacco. On November 21, our local communities will celebrate the Great American Smokeout, a day to encourage smokers to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By quitting – even for one day – smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

If you’d like more information on quitting tobacco or helping a relative, friend, church member or co-worker quit tobacco, contact the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Lancaster County at (717) 544-3284. You may also visit for more information on tobacco prevention efforts in Lancaster County.


You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply