I could hardly wait until I unwrapped my 13th birthday gift from my mother. Her eyes glowed proudly as I held up the can of Export tobacco and Vogue rolling papers. Yes, I was a man now and could smoke in public. My mother sent me off to my grandfather Ernie’s house, where tobacco was smoked with a passion. Everybody smoked rollies and pipes were reserved for the ancient ones and deep thinkers in the crowd. The ciggies that were wrapped by machine and available by the pack were the choice of the “in” group, where Brylcreme was sometimes substituted for bear grease and Elvis was the freshly crowned prince of rock ‘n roll.

I marveled as numshum managed to grab exactly the right amount of ‘baccy into his palm and flipped over to the waiting Vogue. Magically, the cigarette appeared and the match blazed while numshum asked me to follow suit. Wow, that took him about three seconds and one hand, whoa…

As I tore off the delicate paper, trying not to make it stick to my sweaty palm, I dabbed an ounce or two and managed to tear the paper. “Tch, tch tch,…like this” numshum demonstrated again, this time under five seconds. I wondered if he too had troubles to roll his first smoke and pondered whether I should just resort to the pipe, since it was much easier to handle.

Nope, I gotta smoke and some rolling had to be done. I tried with a fervor and managed to roll a lumpy stick. I tried out the new (heavily drenched with lighter fuel) Zippo with a flare and lit the first hand rolled cigarette I ever made. Smoke gasped back out and I managed to stifle the urge to barf while managing to remain cool, enjoying the dank smell of thousands of chemicals that constitute tobacco in its burnt form. Yes, I am a smoker of the cigarette. I have a vice that came from the special relationship with a plant that our people have traded for thousands of years before Europeans interpreted and related tobacco to the works of the devil.

Now it is the ultimate Montezuma’s revenge, as the addiction of tobacco has harmed many in its path and brought billions to a few. How times have changed. Today, smoking is seen as a health hazard and rightly so. Tobacco is a powerful drug that should be treated with respect and used cautiously, or great harm will come to you. This is the way we looked at tobacco back in the day, something that brought you into a higher level of age groups. You could walk with the men with your hands in your pockets and a cigarette glowing from your mouth. The smoking games and the way it drifted around was enjoyable.

Not today. Tobacco is now smuggled and used as political bargaining chip. Health and use of remedial drugs goes up and the use of the puffer escalate with the sedentary lifestyle of modern day mankind. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing when I begrudgingly say yes to one who is still young (less than 20) and hand over my du Maurier. Perhaps I have changed too, as my average pack lasts nearly a week or two. Will it make a difference if I enjoy once or twice a day without fighting off the urge to smoke insistently? Who knows? Maybe I still have respect for tobacco and my body and the people around me.