Tales of the World: Just Saying No

For the first installment of Tales of the World for Miss C, check out this post

When my friend Kendra visited Miss C and me last week, we got to reminiscing as old friends are prone to do about our days in elementary and middle school. She is probably my only real remaining friend from those days, so I rely on her to remind me that my penchant for eating a jar of peperoncinis with a large glass of milk is well-established as one of my most disgusting oddest cravings. I did that when I was a kid; now the training wheels are off and I can down an entire jar with no pain-dulling beverage whatsoever, which pretty much freaks/grosses out everyone.

Just say no to smoking and yes to cuteness.

We also got to talking about being members of the Smoke Free Class of 2000. (Yes, this was a Thing, and I even linked to a 1989 NY Times article to prove it.) Basically, being born in 1981 and 1982 meant that Nancy Reagan and the girl who played “Rudy” on The Cosby Show were going to try their dardest to keep you from smoking by way of your public school guidance counselor. Kind of a mall Santa Claus-type thing; since they couldn’t do it themselves, they sent out a representative to do their work for them.

From first grade onward, we were drilled in the protocol of Just Saying No to smoking, specifically. Pretty much anyone from our class could spew the stats on how many people die in America from smoking every year and what the lung of a lifetime smoker looks like postmortem. The lung assembly resulted in me many students being ushered from the cafetorium to put their heads between their knees so they wouldn’t barf.

I totally got on board with saying no. This is probably because no one was asking me to smoke in the first place, but we needn’t split hairs. In sixth grade, I even wrote a poem wherein a girl gets approached on the playground by some older kid (who else?) to smoke but she declines in iambic pentameter. Did I mention that I wrote this poem on my own accord? Yeah, it wasn’t assigned; just did it on a Saturday afternoon. (For further reading on why I’m a nerd click here.)

Two triple zero, everyone’s a hero.

By the time the year 2000 rolled around, I was a beacon of light for the smoke-free agenda. Bill Clinton was in office but Nancy Reagan was still in my heart. On my eighteenth birthday, in a misguided display of my staunch opposition to nicotine, I went to a gas station with Cameron and her then-boyfriend to buy a pack of cigarettes which I would then flush down the toilet in an act of defiance. Nevermind that I was giving the tobacco companies money by doing so. It was the gesture that counted.

I sidled up to the counter with my still-underage friends flanking me and immediately blanked when the attendant asked me what I needed.

I asked them, “What kind am I supposed to get?”

“Marlboro Reds,” the chorus chanted.

“Ah yes, one pack of Marlboro Reds, please.”

To this, the attendant rolled her eyes. “You do realize I’m not going to sell you cigarettes now that you’ve clearly shown that you’re buying them for your friends, right?”


Why it was more important for us to be smoke-free than our friends from the classes of 1999 and 2001, I cannot explain. Perhaps it was our birthright for our lungs to be especially looked after by First Lady Nancy, who saw the potential in us and was adamant to protect us from the dangers of smoking.

So Kendra and I were talking about our smoke-free indoctrination when she said, “Well, I guess it worked pretty well because I never smoked.”

I guess this means I failed Mrs. Reagan.

Because I did smoke for about fifteen minutes in college.

What can I say? College brought out the rebel in me. My gateway drug was Pringles, which I had consumed maybe only a few times in my life due to the fact that my mom had the pesky habit of feeding us actual food during our formative years. Before I knew it, I was unabashedly bringing Pop Tarts into the dorm and eating them too with no abandon, not only for breakfast but for dinner in-between meals as well. Months passed in my downward spiral and before I knew it I was making midnight runs to Taco Bell for chalupas. The destruction of my body was well underway via junk food so it was only a matter of time until I undid the best efforts of my parents and the Ad Counsel and started smoking.

Ranked only slightly lower than cigarettes on the “Things That Will Make You Die” List

It began easily enough and ended in an all-night ralph session. Out of boredom and curiosity I smoked a few of my sorority sister’s cigarettes one night and subsequently coughed up a lung. However, if I am anything it is determined, so once I discovered that ultra light cigarettes existed, I was all about them.

Yes, nothing is cooler than a nineteen-year-old girl carrying out the same rebellious acts as eleven- and twelve-year-olds, and for the exact same highly sophisticated reasons. The only difference was that my defiance lacked teeth since I was, you know, legal and all. I certainly wasn’t impressing any of my peers with my pack-a-year “habit,” but I never would have known it at the time because I was too busy to notice. My time was monopolized by constantly posing with the cigarettes in front of a mirror and practicing how I would hold them at parties. I was one happening gal.

My foray into smoking ended as abruptly as it had started. One night I was up studying for finals, which had all been scheduled for the following day. I thought to myself, “This seems like a nice opportunity to try out this chain smoking I’ve heard so much about.” Great plan. Keep in mind that over the course of the prior six months I had smoked maybe three packs of cigarettes. Maybe that many. Likely far less.

So that night when I staged the Great Chain Smoking of Emily, I was probably four hours in to my binge when I got horribly sick to my stomach and ended up ralphing for hours. When I finally went to bed I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck. Surprise, surprise. I’m not a born smoker.

Why is this a Tale of the World for Miss C? Is it to show her that smoking is bad for her and she resist the urge to try it? Is it to demonstrate that I have been there and done that so there’s little she can do to shock me? Is it to make her jealous that I had the likes of Nancy Reagan looking after me in my formative years?

Well, yes, but it’s mainly to remind her that she is a product of me. She’s got that nerd gene that will shine through whether she chooses to embrace smoking or compose poems against it.

The moral of the story is to just write poems about smoking. It’s way healthier.


  1. AgrippingLife · · Reply

    OMG! This was a great post. So funny! You probably just described everyone’s college spiral into poor health and self destruction. Haha! I had no idea that Nancy Reagan’s JUST SAY NO campaign included cigarettes. I thought it was ONLY drugs! Haha! I’m so dumb!

    1. LOL Nancy Reagan directly marketed herself to my age group!

  2. T Pate · · Reply

    Guess your mom and dad raised you right. Mrs. Reagan’s help was appreciated, BUT it’s all about the family. :)

    1. Hehe guess so :) I had a pretty awesome set of parents who set me on the straight and narrow.

  3. I once heard that getting sick after smoking means that you’re addicted. Many of my friends have had that experience, and now they are chain-smokers. Unfortunately, I never got sick, and didn’t realize I was addicted until a couple years down the line when I woke up one morning and realized that I really needed a cigarette. Still haven’t kicked the habit yet, but I’m trying!

    1. You can do it! Maybe I should find that poem I wrote about smoking and post it as inspiration for you. Every time you smoke a cigarette you’d have to read it as punishment ;)

  4. Funny stuff! I love that Pringles were your gateway drug to complete dietary destruction! I’m like you were–totally against smoking in all forms until that one night in college when I’d had just the right number of *wine coolers*, snuck one of my friend’s cigarettes and went into the bathroom (not sure why I felt I should hide), proceeded to watch myself being “a smoker” in the mirror for about 4 minutes until it was gone. Later that night I was so incredibly sick–barely made it to the dorm toilet in time–and that was the end of my personal foray. Ahhhh, college experiments! Do any of your poems on the subject still exist??

    1. I think we would have made excellent enablers to each other back in college! I was a big fan of my Bartles & James wine coolers. Those poems probably still exist buried in a drawer at my mom’s house. I should really look for them next time I’m there!

  5. Just say no, oh those were the days. I fear I never took up cigarettes, but I failed to say no to other things.

    1. But you still turned out just fine :)

  6. Did you guys ever have to do the DARE program?? I still remember the theme song:
    Dare to keep a kid off drugs!
    Dare to keep a kid off dope!
    Dare to give a kid some help!
    Dare to give a kid some hope!
    Why don’t you help us?!
    We reaaallyeee neeeed your help

    We would really freaking belt it out in the gymnasium during assemblies, too. I think I found the the workbook for it a couple of years ago. Full of great drawings of that bad influence older kid…
    The black and red DARE t-shirt became a lovely joke to wear while you were out at parties on the weekends in high school.

    1. We didn’t have DARE because we had some other anti-drug program called PRIDE at our school, but I am totally aware of it because I remember people wearing those black and red shirts at high school parties too. My, but we are an ironic generation ;)

  7. I wonder what my chances of survival are if I eat a chalupa WHILE smoking.

    1. That’s actually how they’re implementing the death penalty in Texas these days.

  8. Rudy = Keisha Knight-Pulliam. Grew up to be a very beautiful lady and I think she followed the no-smoking. I also followed the Say No to Drugs and have a shirt from high school that says “Drugs and AIDS Free.” Really? Apparently there were a lot of high school classmates with HIV, unless the school was trying to freak us out.

    I said no to drugs but they never said anything about drinking.

    1. That is alarming. Drugs and AIDS? Geez, being a kid in the 80s and 90s was scarier than I remember. I said no to drugs too but alcohol, not so much.

  9. I love your writing style! This post cracked me up! And to agree with another commenter- I believe you just described how my eating habits changed in college…pop tarts all the time…several dinners in one night…candy daily. No cigs…but then, I was our D.A.R.E honors graduate and speech-maker in the 6th grade. No autographs, please.

    1. Thanks! Congrats on the DARE distinction. I was selected for a drug-free puppet show team at school in sixth grade too so I know the pride involved in such an honor ;)

  10. Being considerably older than you (and probably most of your followers) I am a product of the experimental “Just Scare the Crap out of Little Kids by Showing Them Pictures of Hippies’ Needle-Scarred Limbs and Freaky Close-ups of Dilated Pupils” campaign. I remember a nice lady handing out graphic anti-drug magazines at our school and being completely terrorized by the photos inside. Apparently, hard drug use leads to weeping sores, bulging skin boils, and bruised lips that will never close properly again. Worse yet, every single drug user’s hair was frizzled out in all directions and they clutched their ears. I guess it worked, though. I’ve never popped acid or injected myself with anything.

    And I still won’t touch a mushroom, even in stir-fry.

    Great post! Thanks for making me smile.

    1. That is insane! And I thought I had it rough! Although when I was a freshman in college, part of our orientation was to go to an assembly where one of the foremost AIDS researchers in the country came and did a slideshow of pictures of open sores and infections of AIDS patients. Those images are burned into my brain forever. Massively disturbing. I don’t think any students got into any hanky-panky that night.

  11. Welcome to the dark side. The chalupa side. There’s no going back. That’s in your gut forever.

    1. If I die at the age of 42, I’ll blame it on the chalupas.

  12. Your (hilarious) poem about smoking (I mean the fact you wrote it is hilarious. I’m sure the poem itself is very serious and heartfelt) reminded me of when I was 10 and wrote songs about how horrible pollution was (and still is, for sure). I recorded them onto tapes with my friend. We started early with the nerdyness.

    1. It was really serious, although there was probably some ulterior motive behind it. My school was always handing out awards for one thing or another and I likely thought that if the poem found its way into the right hands, the school would give me something for it. I’d love to hear those tapes. My friend (who I mentioned at the beginning of this post) and I were always making videos of ourselves.

      1. I think I may have burned them.
        But my friend may still have our old songbook full of lyrics…I may just have to track this down.

  13. As a class of 2003 member, Nancy Reagan cared nothing for me. So I attempted to be a smoker in 8th grade. I would swipe cigarettes from my parents and carry them around in an altoid tin. Except I didn’t like smoking so I could just throw them away mostly, and whrn put into a position where I had to smoke them I clearly wouldn’t inhale. I gave up the charade when called out by a real smoker peer. I should have written a poem about it for sure.

    1. Nice use of an Altoids tin. Your use of it was a lt better than mine. I just carried around paperclips in mine.

      1. I could probably find more of a use for paperclips at this point.

  14. After reading your post I feel so bad about my own eating habits. Fortunately I’ve smoked a grand total of 1/8 of a cigarette in my life and unfortunately the equivalent of perhaps a million sticks of passive smoke. I wish there was a way to protect my little one from all that passive smoking when we are out on the streets!

    Miss C is sooo lucky to have a mum who can teach her life stories in such a humorous way that even rebellious teenagers will appreciate I’m sure.

    1. I completely agree. Much to the chagrin of smokers in the US, though, there are fewer and fewer places where they can smoke in public. For us this is a win because I want to keep C as far away from secondhand smoke as possible!

      Thanks for your always kind words!

  15. krugthethinker · · Reply

    Bwahahahaha! Good times, Besfrinn, good times!

    1. Yes indeed! That escapade with you and Chris was one of my most embarrassing moments ever.

  16. […] Tales of the World: Just Saying No Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestTumblrStumbleUponPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Babies, Childhood, Family, Life, Nostalgia, Parenting and tagged babies, books, childhood, disasters, life, Miss C, parenting, Robert Ballard, Scholastic Books, tales of the world, Titanic by The Waiting. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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