We used to pick it - now they want us to smoke it!

Just in case you hadn't noticed, professional Black folks, we have arrived. Yes, Black people and for that matter women too, we have all arrived. We have arrived at that great table of power and success. How do I know, because we are now able to sit down with the great white father and smoke those wonderful magical power imbuing cigars. We are no longer looking in with our noses pressed against that cold hard window pane. We are now able to purchase a spot right at the table, as we pull up our chair next to the cozy hearth, the picture is only completed by snifters filled with the finest aged cognac.

Our group was beginning to slip through the marketing cracks. After all, how do you market sickness and disease to well educated, upwardly mobile thirty/forty-something (plus) folks? Smoking cigarettes had become a dirty habit of the masses, something that kids who don't know any better or addicted adults who we judge as having little or no self control do. Smokers used to be people who didn't possess the will power to stop dancing to the silent symphony of death that the Tobacco Industry plays for us. They were also usually people who started smoking as children or in their teens. But suddenly people who certainly know better are joining the ranks. How is this so?

We were starting to get away, most learned people know that smoking is negatively correlated with one's educational and socioeconomic level. But the marketing execs were having none of that. Somewhere along the way they decided that they weren't selling brown stinky phallic shaped objects that you cut the tip off of (I'll leave that one for Dr. Cress-Welsing) and suck I mean puff gently. No, somewhere along the way they decided they were selling power, success, and for women reverse glamour and a flouting of the old boy's network tradition. And strangely somehow, somewhere along the way we have started to buy. Yes, somehow they are graciously marketing entree to their previously restricted private club and we are standing in line to buy the tickets.

Many people aren't aware that smoking tobacco related illnesses are the number one killer of African American people. Smoking and tobacco rob us of 45,000 souls a year. This fact is astounding enough but when you put it in the context of who amongst us it kills the ramifications are hard felt because we are being robbed of the very anchors of our families, our elders. Much of the war against tobacco is focused on the impact it has on our youth but how many of you have witnessed the slow and agonizingly painful death of a friend or loved one to lung cancer or emphysema. How many of you have nursed a loved one afflicted with heart disease or diabetes that was exacerbated by an addiction to smoking. More often than not these people were in the prime of their lives or just coming into their golden age. People who had worked hard all their lives, people who were full of wisdom and knowledge. People who could have been a rudder for their families in the tumultuous waters that many find themselves in today. But instead of providing leadership and guidance to steer them clear of the dangerous reefs, the power, energy, and finances of their families were consumed by chemotherapy, radiation, pain, suffering, and death.

I'm a modern liberated woman with more than a touch of rebellion in my heart and even though I absolutely detest the smell of cigars, I must admit that I find the image of flouting the rules of what women should and should not do very enticing indeed. But frankly I don't give a damn what Vanessa Williams, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, or Diane Keaton do. I won't be seduced. My people can't afford it.

Carol McGruder is the Project Director for the San Francisco African American Tobacco Free Project, she may be contacted at Polaris Research & Development, Inc. at (415) 777-3229. Project Funded by Proposition 99, the Tobacco Tax Initiative, through the Tobacco Free Project, Bureau of Health Promotion and Education, San Francisco Department of Public Health.