May 26 • 06:22 AM

The more things change, the more they. . .

April 07, 2010
We're in our editorial meeting talking about some topical issues that involve teens and schools.

Maria, Tom and I are musing the merits of doing a story about prescription drug abuse—a story that isn't new—and we wonder if it needs to be revisited. Will we be creating something if we do it? Will it be helpful or alarming?

We talk about a need—if any—to remind parents and grandparents to keep their meds locked up or hidden away because some of them are quite popular little 'escapes' with the young people. With people of all ages for that matter but we discuss the hefty consequences one bad decision has in the life of a teen who's caught passing around prescription drugs in school.

This segues into "the good old days" before Maria was even born and the differences in attitudes and cultural norms today.

"You know my neighbor-what's-his-name (common Tommy-Boy speak for what may be a bit of a 'senior moment.'). He went to school in the 70s and he was talking about all the drug use then," Tom says.

"I know," I pipe in. "It was amazing. The ambulance showed up at school at least three times a week for ODs."

I'm talking 'OD' as in drug overdose and for some unfortunate reason it wasn't entirely unheard of when I went to high school.

I graduated in 1975 and I went to a large high school. It was a great school—still is as far as I know—with an Olympic size swimming and diving pool, computer classrooms, an ice hockey team, a huge circular library, cutting edge art rooms and on and on and on. There were hundreds of kids in my graduating class and for some reason in that strange decade, use of certain drugs was somewhat common. I'm talking LSD type stuff, and now-out-of-fashion "downers."

Dangerous stuff, especially if mixed with alcohol (at the time the legal drinking age was changes back to 21 the year I turn 21...hmmm).

"Maria, you probably heard this before but we even had smoking corridors at my school," I say.

Smoking corridors. Yes, this is true. If I wanted to puff down on a cigarette in between classes (and before and after diving practice), all I had to do was step outside into designated corridors that were "shortcut" connections in our huge high school building.

Several of these corridors existed and they were not unpopulated at break time. Meetings were often scheduled then. It wasn't stigmatized. It was normal.

A similar notion today seems absurd. Is absurd. It was actually rather absurd then, I suppose, in a hindsight-is-20/20-sort of way. Enabling high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to maintain their addiction to nicotine and cigarettes is rather crazy, especially with what all is known today. The thing is, all that was known by the time 1975 rolled around as well. But 1975 was only twenty-some years after the 1950s where everyone—even physicians—puffed down on smokes. Look at vintage television and you'll even find advertisements extolling the 'calming effects' of certain brand name cigarettes. The market was huge and competitive. Phillip Morris brought us I Love Lucy and so many other lively gems on that newfangled thing called television. The Marlboro man was hot, riding on his trusty horse in the rugged west all square-jawed and dusty from a hard day's work. Joe Camel was as familiar as, say, Ronald McDonald—who some health experts say should go into retirement right now.

These things really aren't the ancient relics of the past. In a span of a short 50 years smoking cigarettes was considered healthy and helpful and then determined to be deadly and fatal.

Public service announcements that start appearing in the late 1960s softly urge people to 'kick the habit' by drawing a vertical line across half of their cigarettes and extinguishing the smoke when they'd gotten to the black line. Perhaps we'll be urged to do the same with burgers and fries, who knows.

In my little lifetime the pendulum swings from smoking corridors at hip, suburban high schools to smoking bans at all business establishments except casinos and 'cigar bars'—which I imagine I'll be much better able to define in the future as they crop up by the dozens so smokers have some place to go. Hopefully they'll leave some room for ol' Ron, just in case...

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Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
Castle Creek
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