I sometimes had a penny for candy, but never twenty cents which a pack of cigarettes sold for at that time. Consequently, I have never bought a pack of cigarettes in my life, so a dilemma of having to choose the best brand for me and my health has been averted. How do I know they were twenty cents a pack? They were sold in the small grocery store where I worked occasionally (not the five and dime) and cigarettes were one of the biggest selling items in the store. Camels were the biggest seller followed by Luckie, Winston, Chesterfield, Marlboro, and Pall Mall. Kool and Salem were the top menthol sellers.
This is not to say that I have never smoked a cigarette. I confess that I have—but only one! When I was in the second or third grade, I was walking home from school beside the main road when I spied a cigarette butt that had a lot of tobacco left in it. I picked it up and continued toward the house. I had to pass a neighbor’s house in order to get to ours, and a couple of boys were in the yard pitching washers. I asked if they had a match and one was handed to me. I lit the cigarette and sat down in the corner of the house and leaned up against a rain barrel. I was a big shot until my head started swimming and I became sick, really sick! The boys had to carry me home. They must have not told my parents what was wrong with me, as they never brought it up that they knew. That was the first and last time I ever had a desire to smoke.
At that time, it was common to have chain smokers who would practically light one cigarette off the one that had just been smoked. I also observed many times a smoker taking a strike anywhere match, slightly lifting a leg thus stretching his pants, and using friction against the jeans to strike the match to light his cigarette. You could tell a heavy smoker by the yellow nicotine stains on his fingers that held the cigarettes. Some smokers would smoke two or three packs a day. They would almost always have a cigarette in their mouths when you saw them. At twenty cents a pack it was not too expensive for some to afford their habit, but if I was inclined to smoke even the twenty cents would have been a deterrent. I could afford to go into the penny candy store and buy two or three pieces, but the twenty cents was outside my price range. While working at the five and dime, I was paid eleven dollars a week, and I had to stretch that to buy things that I needed. I held this job during the junior and senior years of high school, and I paid all my expenses needed to attend.
Secondhand smoke was everywhere at that time. Smoking was allowed anywhere, even hospitals, and everywhere you could go would subject you to smoke. There would often be a smoker riding in a car with you. Buses and trains allowed smoking, and the interior of the vehicle would be smoke filled. Airlines allowed smoking on their planes. Sheriffs permitted the inmates to smoke in their tight confines. In fact, the sale of cigarettes to the inmates was a profitable business. Public buildings and auditoriums were many times so full of smoke that a non-smoker could hardly breathe. Smoking was permitted in businesses and offices, with the office holder often being a smoker also. Churches were one of the few places where one could go and sit in a smoke free environment. During most Sunday morning church services there was a Bible study, a short break, and then the worship services. Smokers took advantage of the short break and went outside and smoked a cigarette.
At that time a lot of smokers rolled their own cigarettes. They would carry a tin of Prince Albert tobacco and a pack of rolling papers with them. To roll the cigarette, a rolling paper was placed between the thumb and the tip of the weak hand’s forefinger creating the slight curve into which the tobacco was poured. The paper was then tightly wrapped around the loose tobacco and the seams were licked letting the saliva make the bond. Loose tobacco would always be sticking out of both ends of the newly rolled cigarette. The excess tobacco on the mouth end would be bitten off and spit out and the tobacco on the fire end would be lit. Some smokers preferred Bugler tobacco which came in a pouch. The afore-mentioned Raleigh was one who rolled his own cigarettes, and I observed the manufacturing of his smoke many times. He could roll a cigarette and have it lit in seconds. He preferred Prince Albert tobacco because it came in a sturdy tin container, but he would sometimes get Bugler and pour it into his Prince Albert tin to make for easier rolling. And yes, Raleigh had nicotine stained fingers as he smoked like a sailor.