Bad habits are hard to break

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There are still a lot of smokers out there, but it is much more of an expensive habit now than it was then. Taxes on tobacco products are now much more than the product could be bought for when I was climbing Fool’s Hill. Gone are the magazine, newspaper, radio and television ads that appeared to attract young users of tobacco. No longer do tobacco companies promise safe and soothing use of their products. Replacing the ads, there are now warnings on the packages that the product might be hazardous to the health. The 20,629 physicians who once would endorse the smoking of “Luckies” and the specialist who made the claim that Chesterfields created no adverse effects on the nose, throat, and sinuses of smokers would now have their medical licenses examined if they supported that claim. There are far too many smokers who have lived an abbreviated life because they developed a bad habit which they were unable to break until it was too late. Lung cancer and other tobacco related diseases claim many of our loved ones today, because they failed to make it up Fool’s Hill without picking up excess baggage that eventually cut short their lives.

Cigarette smoking is not the only cause of tobacco related health problems. It has been shown that second hand smoke such as I had to endure as a youngster can cause problems such as lung cancer and problems with the nose, throat, and sinuses. Baseball players have long had the reputation of being heavy users of smokeless tobacco, such as snuff and chewing tobacco. This has created an epidemic of major proportions in the sports field.   Babe Ruth was reported to have suffered from oral cancer as did Brett Butler and Bill Tuttle. Recently, the San Diego Hall of Famer died of oral cancer at age fifty-four. Curt Schillings, now age fifty-one, who was in baseball for thirty years and then did a color commentary for ESPN reported that he suffers from throat cancer which is now in remission. He attributes his oral cancer to the thirty years that he used smokeless tobacco. It is said that thirty-five to forty percent of baseball players use some type of smokeless tobacco. 

Marijuana seems to have replaced tobacco as the smoke of choice of those who are now struggling to top Fool’s Hill, but are picking up harmful habits along the way. When I started working in probation and parole in 1967, the big issues at that time were moonshining, bootlegging, and transporting the brew. There were those who developed a drinking habit (moonshine) in many areas of our county and moonshining was a lucrative business. Moonshine stills dotted the wooded hills in rural areas in the mid-sixty’s.   It was also illegal. Normally when the offender was caught, the court system was not prone to throw the book at him but rather place him on probation. That is where I came in. Every moonshiner, bootlegger, and transporter knew my name.  

On one occasion, when my dad loaded some of us kids in his fishing boat on the river to fish, he pulled it into the mouth of a slough and we were catching fish (bream) as fast as we could pull them out of the water. After we were there a short time, Dad got out of the boat to go up the stream that fed into the slough to relieve himself. It was not long before he returned and told us to get our fishing lines inside the boat and we left in a hurry. After we were some distance away, he told us that there was a large moonshine operation up the stream which was in the fermenting stage. The mash was getting into the water which emptied into the river and the bream were congregating there and enjoying a feast. We could have stayed there all day and caught a boat load of fish, but Dad wanted to get as far away from there as was possible.           

It did not take long for my caseload to change completely. It began when the price of sugar that was needed in the brewing process got so high that it was no longer profitable to take the risk of getting caught and facing a court sentence. The revenuers improved in their detection of stills, and cheap bottled liquor began to replace moonshine as the drink of choice. Many moonshiners also hurt their profession by using battery acid and other contaminants to speed up their fermentation process. After a few deaths as a result of bad moonshine, the drinkers switched to safer intoxicants. In the meantime, the younger generations were picking up new habits which involved marijuana and other drugs. As time passed, more dangerous drugs appeared on the scene, and eventually the moonshiners and bootleggers completely disappeared, and drug dealers and users filled their place.

I remember the first marijuana case I had, as I was not even familiar with it.  I asked my secretary how it was spelled and she didn’t know. She said that she thought it could be spelled two ways, but she needed to look it up in her dictionary. It did not take long for us to remember the spelling all too well. Following this, there is a long list of drugs which are blocking many climbers from reaching the top of Fool’s Hill. Too often, graves had to be dug and another special person buried on the upslope of the hill. One of the first things I did each morning after reaching the office was to check the obituaries in the local paper to see if I had one less probationer or parolee to supervise. I had a practice of cutting out the obituary of a client, or former client, and putting it into his/her file. The probation officer who followed me and assumed my caseload commented on the number of obituaries which the files contained and expressed his appreciation that I had saved them, as he had been ordered to purge files to make room for more. He was able to discard those where he found obituaries. 

Substance abuse has become widespread, and it is not just the juveniles who are developing harmful habits. Much too often in this era where doctors prescribe pills for everything and pharmacies are happy to get the business, it is easy to pick up an addicted habit which is not easily broken. Caution must be taken to refrain from that which can eventually enslave one to a habit, which will reduce the quality of one’s special life.