Dear editor:

Re: “Let’s Ban Smoking Outright,” March 18

Twenty years or so ago I met Mrs. S. As the old saying goes, “we hit it off,” in an immediate liking of one another. It was my first contact as a chaplain with a person with lung cancer. She was in her late fifties. One lung had been surgically removed. She still could not stop smoking cigarettes. In addition to her physical suffering with cancer, and the unshakable anxiety related to her mortality, she was in constant conflict with her husband. They loved one another. She still smoked. He admonished and pleaded with her. She still smoked. She tried hypnosis. Still, two packs a day. She and I talked out everything she could feel and think. Prayers to God for strength to stop. Other professional counseling. To no avail.

About one and a half years later a half of the remaining lung was surgically removed. And the nicotine addiction held on. She cared about herself. She cared about her relationship with her God. She loved her husband and family. They loved her. I, and many others, cared about her. And she smoked. One half of one lung, and she smoked. I couldn’t believe it, and I could believe it. Nicotine addiction is said to be stronger than heroin addiction. The addiction fed her anxious existence, and her anxious existence drove her addiction. It was a terrible spiral which nothing could break. Within six months the spiral ended in death, and brought the end of her suffering.

Sometime during the last twenty years I lost count of the number of people I had the honor and privilege to be with in their dying. Still, every one of them whose path to the grave was shortened because of tobacco increased my rage at the tobacco industry. And my rage at our society which allows this industry to flourish.

A number of years ago my young son innocently asked me, “Dad, isn’t there anything good about tobacco?” I immediately replied without thinking, “Yes. It makes lots of money for people who don’t care if they injure and kill others.”

Rev. Robert W. Jais


Pastoral Services and Education

Northwestern Memorial Hospital