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'It didn't have to be this way'

So, a few weeks back it was three years. Three years since she left me to carry on alone. I keep telling myself, "It didn't have to be this way." Somewhere along the way, I have grown to realize that she couldn't help herself any more than I could help her. She wanted to quit so badly, but that monkey on her back just wouldn't let her do it. Yes, this is what can happen to anyone that gets hopelessly addicted to tobacco. That, at some point in time, you give up and start to live one day at a time, one smoke at a time, because you know it's only a matter of time before you cough up some blood and they take one of those x-rays with the dark shadows on it. Now the doctor is talking to you, while nervously not making eye contact because what he has to say is almost as painful as the disease itself. Really, what they want to say is, "I told you so," but they can't.

Even when you are dying, the level of pity and sympathy you get is just not the same as it is for those who were cursed to get cancer through no fault of their own. People are thinking, you should have known that it would come to this someday. So yeah, we're going to miss you, and you know no one deserves to die, but in your case maybe you should have realized this would happen. It's hard enough to say your goodbyes from life with any cause of disease but when your goodbyes are sprinkled with guilt because you know in your heart that you caused all of this - well, it's a whole lot worse. The tobacco you craved so much has now robbed you of your life. Now your own self-guilt, and the cancer, will rob you of any self-respect and dignity you had left.

It was the early sixties and we were first married and we would go grocery shopping once a week. We always did everything together. Along with the food came a carton of Camels for me and a carton of Winstons for her. Life was good. Then, one day I couldn't quit coughing, and on my 30th birthday I said, "This is B.S." I threw the last pack of cigarettes I owned on the garage roof, and never smoked again. For the next 40 years I tried everything to persuade her to do the same, but the addiction always won out. It continued after the doctors told her she had emphysema. Her voice got husky, and she labored to breath. It continued until the day the doctors told her she had cancer and then she said, "Why quit now because I am going to die, anyway." I found it hard to argue with that logic as convoluted as it seems.

If you had a well that was tested, and found to have levels of some poisonous chemical, you would quit drinking the water, would you not? The EPA would make you cap it so no one could get at it. Knowingly poisoning yourself by insisting to drink from it would be a crime. Every day, 20 percent of the population continues to poison themselves with tobacco. Government has made some feeble attempts to stop it, but has not gone far enough. They sued the tobacco companies' big time, and then took some of the settlement money to shore up the government in lean times. Even though direct subsidies to tobacco farmers have ended, they still receive billions of dollars in aid. The majority of the sin tax money does not go to help people quit smoking. It goes for whatever the government wants to spend it on. Our health care costs, already outrageous, are impacted greatly by smoker's disease, and the rest of us have to subsidize it. Why isn't some of this money used for that? We have taken small strides to help smokers quit, and persuade others not to start. But we haven't gone far enough. As for the tobacco companies, they're laughing all the way to the bank, and couldn't care less if you live or die.

I didn't write this to chastise smokers. As a former smoker, I understand all too well your addiction. I wrote this to see if there was any way I could help you or just one person not smoke by telling you the truth about it. If that happens, this will have been worthwhile.

MIKE HOLST is a resident of Crosslake.