One Little Puff Won't Hurt, and It's Free!
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 97 15:52:20 -0700
Subject: One Little Puff Won't Hurt, and It's Free!
Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: "Keith E. Sullivan" <KSullivan@worldnet.att.net>
ONE LITTLE PUFF WON'T HURT, AND IT'S FREE
by Bill Hall, Lewiston, Idaho Tribune, Friday, September 12, 1997
I lived with a pusher when I was in college. He kept me supplied for free.
He was pushing cigarettes. He was the campus representative of a cigarette
company. He received shipments of sample cigarettes -- four to a pack.
His job was to pass them out for free to students on campus. And he did,
by the thousands.
There was somebody like him on nearly every campus in the country, except
a few church schools that considered it ungrateful for a person to smudge
the lungs God had given him.
But most schools had campus pushers. I can't prove that the cigarette
companies did that to get young people hooked on their product, though it
certainly had that effect. They might tell you they did that just to help
struggling college students save a little money on their regular ration of
smokes so they would have enough slack to contribute to the church of their
More likely, they would have used the argument they give for their
advertising today: They are merely trying to get people who already smoke
to switch brands, not to get new people started on tobacco, least of all
young people, for goodness' sake.
However, if you are the sort of person who already smokes, then they want
your business. So take a puff on one of these. You will find them smooth
and cool and tasty. (And in a few years, you will find your fingers are
yellow, that you have a lot of little holes melted in your polyester slacks
and that you cough on cold mornings until your eyes water.)
But it's hard to believe now that something so blatant was going on and I
was part of it. In fact, I sometimes helped my roommate hand out the
samples. I would walk around the campus giving students -- mostly young
people in those times -- the mini-packs of coffin nails. And if they didn't
already smoke, there's no doubt quite a few of them gave it a try because
of that. They had the free cigarettes. They might as well light up and
pretend to be Humphrey Bogart.
And then we had them. They were ours for life, however long that was.
Telling you that must make me sound like one of those old bootleggers from
Prohibition that I used to meet on occasion when I was a kid. However, I
was more stooge than capitalist. I didn't exactly get paid, except in the
product. My roommate, the tobacco pusher, didn't distribute all of the
cigarettes to the public. He and I took all we needed for our own habit
first. I never had to buy a cigarette during the time I roomed with him.
But we still had more than enough left to invite dozens of our classmates
to join us in our new hobby. And my only excuse is that, like any young
person, I thought we would all live forever. We were immortal and nothing
would kill us for years, least of all a pleasant little diversion like a
cigarette with our coffee.
My roommate had been chosen to pass out the freebies because he was a campus
politician, a leader, a likable, admirable guy. I think the theory was that
the new kids on campus would want to be like him. And he not only smoked
but was willing to help you get started if you wanted to be as cool as he
There was a lot of that during those years. Campus heroes were paid to
appear in newspaper ads for clothing stores and burger shops. (They paid
people like me to say I didn't do business with them.)
But I became one of my own victims. It took me 20 years to quit smoking.
And my punishment now is that today I am threatened by other pushers. The
campus heroes no longer pass out free cigarettes at colleges and
universities. But practically every time I go into a grocery store, there
are pleasant women with cardboard tables -- deceptively innocent looking
women -- offering me little tastes of chips and cookies and greasy sausage.
Mind you, they have no intention of getting you started if you don't already
eat fatty foods. But if you already do that sort of thing, why not try one
of their brand? Their brand is richer, smoother, sweeter than the brand of
chip or cookie or sausage you have been eating.
I wonder if these women realize that years from now they may look back on
what they did to customers like me and experience considerable remorse.
© 1997 Peter Langston