Derek Gentile: I didn't have the lung capacity for smoking


PITTSFIELD -- I read fellow reporter Jim Therrien's story the other day on the city's latest smoking regulations, designed, at least in part, to reduce youth smoking.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a good idea. But I have to say, if you haven't been turned away from lighting up by those recent commercials, from the Center For Disease Control, you can't be swayed.

The CDC has taken off the gloves. Those are the ads that show, for example, a very attractive woman shedding a wig and makeup to reveal a very frightening-looking ex-smoker.

Or the one where someone squeezes out some yellow gunk from the diseased artery of a deceased smoker (I mean, I have to assume the guy is dead if they handle one of his arteries like a frosting spreader!) It's all pretty nasty.

But I hope all these advertisements work. I smoked only briefly, and it just never appealed to me, although I cannot condemn what I never really tried.

When I say I smoked briefly, though, I mean very briefly. My estimate is an aggregate of one cigarette over three separate smoking sessions.

I was in an unofficial neighborhood smoking club at age 13 or 14. A few of my friends and I would congregate in a huge metal storm drain under Glen Street in Adams. One of us would provide the cigarettes. We'd all light up and try to be adults.

The first time I did it, I coughed for about 15-20 minutes after my first puff. Don't worry, my pals said, everybody does that the first time. That, of course, should have been my first big, big clue. But I was never the quickest kid on the uptake in those days.

So over the course of three meetings, I managed to smoke one cigarette. This didn't appear to be the ideal scenario for me, but, you know, I wanted to fit in with my pals.

We rotated the schedule as to who procured the cigarettes. On the fourth week, it was my turn. One might speculate that a minor buying cigarettes might be an obstacle.

Wrong. The irony of growing up in Adams in the 1960s and ‘70s, (and I'm sure, before those decades), was that little kids could go to a store and buy cigarettes, as long as they said the butts were for one's parents.

So I trundled off to the local store to pick up a pack of Marlboros. Because Marlboros were manly cigarettes and that's what the club wanted.

But when I got there, and asked the guy behind the counter for a pack of butts, he nodded and, turning to the cigarette display behind him, grabbed a pack of BelAirs and tossed them on the counter.

"Your mom smokes BelAirs, right?" he said.

"Oh yeah," I said, and meekly paid for them.

There was hell to pay at the club later that day. BelAirs were not manly. What happened?

I explained that the guy behind the counter knew my family. I couldn't order cigarettes no one smoked. Suspicions would be too high.

It wasn't good enough, unfortunately. No one in the club wanted the BelAirs. With no cigarettes to smoke, the cigarette club adjourned for the day.

Crushed and embarrassed, I lost my already waning enthusiasm for the cigarette club. My friends now knew they couldn't count on me. I was a loser! Just like my younger sisters said.

So the next time there was a club meeting, I demurred. I coughed up some excuse, although I don't recall what it was. It was probably lame.

But that was the end of the cigarette club for me. I didn't have the lung capacity, I guess.

As I said before, it's not fair for me to say anything disparaging about smokers. But I have to think that that counterman at my local convenience store changed my life that day.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions