Originally published Sep 17, 2016
Grandpa’s dry cough rattles the thick summer evening as thin wisps escape his lips. The next instant, a billowing white mushroom cloud explodes from his maw and Lili screams in awe, her big dark eyes tracing the cloud's return to its roots, mouth agape in a ravishing grin. Finger nailed to the sky, her blonde head swivels toward us to make sure we don’t miss this mind-blowing moment.
“I remember reading about old cigarette advertisements.” The thought slips from my lips too soon, or maybe much, much too late.
“Oh, ,” Grandpa jokes. He knows what happened. The same witty, ‘science-backed’ marketing that originally hooked an entire generation nearly went under with the renaissance of health, but then, lo-and-behold—the industry completely rebrands itself to put the focus right back on the product: nicotine. nicotine. None of those smelly, industrial chemicals harvested right from their source on repair shop floors and in anatomy labs. No smell, no problem.
I marvel at Lili being almost 4 and seeing the beautiful cloud for its presence and not its meaning. I marvel at the tobacco industry’s uncanny ability to somehow make us forget they deceitfully marketed deadly chemicals for public consumption; a shiny new toy with exciting new flavors and it’s all now just a part of those old days, back when people spent $60 a month on yoga and pissed away double that on eCig cartridges. Back in the ’10s. Back when the environment was more urgent than our own ghettos.
I remember middle school Language Arts, discovering Google! and saving essays on floppy disks.
I remember when the no smoking sign was a cigarette.
I marvel at my daughter, still gaping at the vanilla clouds. I wonder when she’ll understand. I wonder how her friends will be getting their nicotine fix in 20 years.