Mister Boomer’s Easter Flashback

As aging boomers can attest now that six-to-seven decades have elapsed in our existence, there are plenty of flashback memories from which to choose on any occasion. This week, as another Easter season passes, Mister B was transported to the early 1960s. The flashback in question concerned his father and attending church on Easter Sunday.

Lent, that 40-day period set aside before Easter for personal reflection and to ask for forgiveness for past transgressions, is also a time when many Christians “give up” something as a symbolic sacrifice for the season. It was encouraged in Mister Boomer’s parochial school, though not particularly practiced among the schoolchildren, who tended to offer up something that wasn’t that much of a problem for them to do without for a month and a half.

Mister Boomer’s family practiced the no-meat-on-Fridays rule, but other than that, it was not typical for family members to discuss “giving up” something for Lent. So it was with great surprise that one year, his father announced he was giving up cigarettes for Lent. Mister B recalls his mother reacting with skepticism. After all, Mister B’s dad had a two-pack-a day habit at the time. Yet he was resolute. From that day forward, he did not smoke, at least around the family.

If you’ve read Mister Boomer’s posts for any length of time, you know his feelings on smoking. There was nothing about it that Mister B could tolerate, even as a child. So cutting the cloud of smoke in the home (or car!) by half for a few weeks was more than welcome.

So it was, as Lent went on, his father held out while his mother continued to spew smoke. Unfortunately for Mister Boomer, though, Lent does not last forever. Easter Sunday was fast approaching, and Mister B and his siblings wondered what would happen to their father’s pledge. They would not wait long to find out.

On Easter Sunday, the family drove to attend services, parking in the smaller of the two parking lots that abutted the church. It was the early 1960s, and church attendance was at its highest, especially on major religious holidays. Securing a good parking spot was crucial to getting the rest of the day underway, lest extra time be spent in trying to exit.

After the service, Mister B’s parents shuffled the kids along so the family would be in the car and ready as soon as an opportunity to leave appeared. Mister Boomer cannot recall the reason for the rush, but more than likely it was the fact that a visit to both grandmothers would ensue, which meant two Easter dinners awaited that afternoon.

As the brisk pace brought the family to the church doors, Mister B saw his father reach into his suit jacket pocket and pull out a new pack of Lucky Strikes. As soon as he crossed the threshold and was outside, a cigarette was in his mouth and being lit with his Zippo lighter. He did not even wait to get to the car. Cigarette lit, Mister B’s father took a long drag and began coughing, though he never stopped the family’s brisk pace to the car. He coughed and coughed, but the cigarette remained in his mouth. There was the answer Mister B dreaded; his father would smoke again.

In fact, Mister Boomer’s father did continue to smoke for another three decades after that Easter Sunday. Still, for forty smoke-free days from his father, Mister Boomer had a moment to catch his breath.

Was giving something up for Lent part of your Easter tradition, Boomers?

More Easter reading from Mister B:
Boomers Loved Their Chocolate Easter Bunnies
Our Sunday Best for Easter

Boomer Mothers Smoked While Pregnant

Mister Boomer spied an endangered species this past week. This scene was something that we commonly saw in our Boomer Years, but now sightings are rare. Heading to work one day, Mister B saw a woman in a dress, by all appearances herself heading to work. What was unusual about her was she that was very pregnant — and smoking a cigarette.

World War II had secured a steady stream of nicotine-addicted GIs for the tobacco companies. On returning home, many of their soon-to-be-wives picked up the habit — if they hadn’t already during the war. Yet all was not perfect for Big Tobacco.

By the early 1940s there were rumblings among the medical community about the potential harm that could be done to the human body by smoking. Further, these science-minded individuals knew that whatever the pregnant mother ingested was going to find its way into the baby’s bloodstream. Big Tobacco was not going to take this information lightly.

The companies reacted forcefully, with counter ad campaigns, and by 1954 they were funding “scientific” studies of their own, intended to show that smoking had no effect on mother or baby. Camel cigarettes ran a series of ads promoting their product as “the brand most doctors choose.” Philip Morris published ads quoting their own studies with a drawing of a mother and her child, flanked by the headline of, “Mother and Baby Are Doing Fine.” Still, resistance was building with both consumers and doctors.

The U.S. government stepped into the fray and in January of 1964, the Surgeon General released the results of the very first government study on smoking and health. The study concluded that smoking while pregnant increased the risk of premature birth, birth defects, lower birth weight and ectopic pregnancies, where the egg grows outside of the uterus — and, oh yes, risk to the mother of heart disease, stroke, gum disease and cancer. The study stated that as the mother took smoke into her lungs, nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar passed through the placenta and umbilical cord into the baby’s bloodstream.

Congress attempted to establish warning labels on packaging, but Big Tobacco fought back, getting key Congressmen to agree that the wording of the proposed labeling was too harsh. In 1965, Congress passed a modified version of their original warning label with the Federal Cigarette Advertising Act. This was followed by more restrictive wording in advertising and packaging with the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969, which also banned cigarette advertising on television and radio.

Mister Boomer’s mother, and most of the mothers of his friends, smoked while pregnant. “It hasn’t hurt me yet,” was the phrase his mom often spoke when, in later years, Mister B and his siblings tried to get her to quit. Boomer mothers could be heard from coast to coast saying how they smoked (and drank, but that is a story for another time) while they were pregnant, and we boomers turned out OK. We were living proof that nothing bad happened. They were addicted, but times were changing and attitudes with them.

In 1973 Congress passed the most restrictive labeling to that date, requiring wording on each pack that said cigarettes contain “toxic substances.” Congress would continue to modify labeling into the 1980s and beyond.

As he has stated before, Mister Boomer always hated smoking (read: Boomers First Accepted Smoking, Then They Rejected It). Maybe his exposure to the toxic substances in the womb turned him away from the habit throughout his life, but his brother and sister were also crusaders in their fight to get their parents to quit. They finally did in the 1980s, when Brother Boomer had his first child, followed by another. The grandparents were not allowed to smoke in his house or near the grandkids. After a couple of years of smoking outside, they relented and gave it up.

Did your mother smoke while she was pregnant with you, boomers?