Like millions of Americans I began smoking as a teenager. I can’t tell you if I was being cool or being a rebel or just being a guy that thought he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof. No matter how I got there I was a smoker. Like most people I smoked about a pack a day. I’d smoke a little more if I was stressed or went out and had a few drinks. I started with LSMFT. For those of you who know, you just smiled a little bit because you’d have to be in the club to understand that fairly obscure reference. It stands for Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.

I always thought that Lucky Strikes were just a little cooler than what everyone else was smoking. Over time however I ran through a few other brands like Marlboros, Marlboro Lights and then Camel Lights. I smoked Camel Lights for several years but it weighed on me more and more as I got older. “There’s no future in it you know”, I’d say that a lot and then I’d light another one.

It was my oldest daughter, Alyssa who finally drove me to quit in 1999. She was nine years old that summer and increasingly unimpressed with me sneaking off to smoke. I don’t think she ever actually saw me smoke but knew full well what the deal was. I’d disappear out back every half hour or so and then she’d sneak out trying to catch me. When she’d find my cigarettes she’d break them. When she’d find lighters she would throw them away. It was a cat and mouse game we played for awhile but I knew full well it could easily be a game of life and death. On the last day of May we were driving somewhere when she found a lighter. I never saw it coming when all of a sudden that lighter flew passed the end of my nose and slammed into my window. It scared the hell out of me and it also gave me the resolution to quit smoking. I quit cold turkey the next day. It was June 1, 1999.

For the next few years I was tobacco free but somewhere in a deer blind filming a TV show I decided to try some chewing tobacco. That is what we will call frankly, a really bad decision. In fact it was stupid. I didn’t go hog wild at first just a little here and there. Inevitably however I was dragged back into the nicotine addiction. I was once again one of the robots programmed by one of the most addictive substances known to man. I ran through the laundry list of long cut, short cut, snuff, fine and what not. I settled at some point on long cut evergreen Skoal. That went on for years before I switched to Skoal pouches. I liked the pouches so much better as it never got in my teeth that way. But I also had that same old adage running through my head, “there’s no future in it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control it’s true. In fact tobacco related deaths are the number one cause of ‘preventable’ death in America every year. And just how many people are lost to those horrible tobacco related deaths? Well the CDC releases those statistics every year and here are the latest statistics:

Cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year. Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause the following:

More than 480,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke)

278,544 deaths annually among men (including deaths from secondhand smoke)

- 201,773 deaths annually among women (including deaths from secondhand smoke)

I am writing this column to outline one of my more controversial positions. It is time to outlaw smoking altogether. In fact it is time to ban tobacco for any recreational purposes. The kinds of death linked to tobacco from lung cancer, bladder cancer, emphysema, COPD and a host of other horrible diseases need to be stopped.

The cost to the rest of the nation is staggering and reaches into the tens of billions. It is just too high of a price to pay for something that has a nearly direct cause and effect relationship with its users. It is one of the only products you can buy that when used, as intended, will kill you. It is time to put this where it belongs, the history books.

And you say “but Steve what about your chewing tobacco?” Well I also wrote this column to celebrate my one-year tobacco free anniversary. I have once again (with the support of my wife and youngest daughter) become nicotine free and this time it is forever. I want to make sure that those that come behind us will not have to suffer from the nicotine addiction or the horrible diseases that come from tobacco’s use. It is time my friends to outlaw tobacco once and for all.

That way we can all breath easily- and I truly mean that.