Thankfully, the Legislature overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the bill to prohibit young people from purchasing death — commonly called cigarettes — before the age of 21. It might, however, have made more sense to override his veto of the bill to ban the use of cellphones while driving, which, unfortunately, lawmakers failed to do.

After all, if you are talking on your cellphone and drive into my lane, you are likely to kill me. If you smoke cigarettes, you are (mostly) only killing yourself.

It amazes me that people still smoke cigarettes, knowing that half of those who smoke will die from their addiction. Special thanks to Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth for sponsoring the cigarette ban. His story should be read by every smoker. As reported by Kevin Miller and Scott Thistle in this newspaper, Brian told the story of his mom, who died from lung cancer.

Brian noted that the “freedom to choose was … overridden by a loss of a freedom to quit. My mother’s very last words on this planet were, ‘I could not quit,’ just before she passed away.”

Maine has a long history on this smoking issue. Perhaps you remember the battle to ban cigarette smoking in restaurants. At that time, this newspaper actually editorialized that “the ban on smoking in restaurants is too severe.” The newspaper suggested that restaurants be required to provide a separate “no smoking” area.

My dad was an avid anti-smoker and responded with a letter to the editor in which he wrote, “It is quite obvious that health is not much of a concern for our newspaper. How pig-headed can they be? Requiring a no-smoking area in a one-room restaurant makes about as much sense as having a no-smoking section in a two-hole outhouse.”

Yes, Dad had very strong opinions. Guess I got that gene from him.

Dad actually testified for the cigarette ban bill at the Legislature. And he asked a very good question at the end of that letter: “Should we be compromising peoples’ lives?”

For Pete’s sake, in 1991 a study found that second-hand cigarette smoke caused 32,000 heart disease deaths every year. So smoking doesn’t just hurt those who smoke. And maybe those young guys who want to start smoking cigarettes ought to be told about a Boston study that found cigarette smoking to be a cause of impotence.

In 1989, this newspaper printed a letter from Lybrand Smith of Torrance, California, in which he wrote, “Leave us smokers alone. Over my desk (which will be in Maine come December) is a sign that reads: ‘Warning: We cigarette smokers have determined that your bitching about our smoking can be dangerous to your health.'”

Dad responded with his own letter: “To the smoker from California who is planning to come to Maine, may I offer the following suggestion. I know that the air in California stinks and I don’t blame you a bit for wanting to come to Maine. However, we are doing everything possible here to keep our air clean so if you have to move here, please leave your cigarettes home.”

I must note that California raised the legal age for the purchase of cigarettes to 21 before Maine did.

Let’s return to cellphones. Maine has a law forbidding texting and driving, a law that is very difficult to enforce because police officers can’t tell for sure if the driver it texting or talking on his cell phone. Each day in the United States, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

In 2015, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. Scary!

A report in this newspaper on Aug. 17 quoted Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary who said, “We’re asking people to slow it down, stay off your phone. It’s important to know you have to be aware of what’s coming at you and be aware of your speed.” Boy, Chief O’Leary got that right.

Perhaps the obituaries of every Mainer killed by a driver who was on the phone or by cigarettes should be sent to our governor. If we start doing that today, he’ll have time to step up next year and help us ban talking on a cellphone while driving. Who knows? The life he saves might be his own. Or yours.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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