Bill Moeller Commentary: Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette


I’m sure everyone has his or her own snow story. 

Mine includes shoveling enough snow to drive to Safeway for the sole purpose of buying the Sunday edition of The Seattle Times. Only two copies were left, and I bought one only to find out when I returned home that it was last week’s issue. 

Oh well.

Every once in a while something comes up that you can’t possibly think is true. My son Matthew came across a series of old calendars that my father had used as a sort of daily journal. 

They included years from 1965 through 1978. It’s pretty difficult to write very much in the space of each calendar day, but he managed to attach a few interesting items once in a while. 

A strip from a yellowed newspaper (most likely The News Tribune) devoted a full column to the amounts of tar and nicotine in 145 brands of cigarettes!  

That’s right, 145 brands! 

Dad smoked cigarettes until the day he died, and so did my mother — even though they were likely the cause of her spending the last 10 years of her life in Riverside Nursing Home after a stroke took away her speech and her ability to walk.   

“Carlton 70s” were the cigarette on the list with the lowest amount of toxins —  2 milligrams of tar and .2 milligram of nicotine. “Players regular” non-filter hard packs held down the other end of the list with 31 grams of tar and 2.1 grams of nicotine!

Dad’s favorite cigarettes from the beginning were Camel regular non-filters with 24 grams of tar and 1.5 of nicotine. One of my earliest memories is standing beside his desk in a sort of attic in the home we had then and breathing in, what to me as a child, was the wonderful smoke that curled up from his ashtray. (If daddy liked them, wouldn’t they be wonderful?) 

It wasn’t until I was into my 40s that I was able to break away from that enticing aroma. In the aforementioned list of 145 brands there are, of course, many unfamiliar names such as Iceberg, Doral, DeMaurier, Zack, Tramps, St. Moritz, Capri, Oasis, Picayune, Long Johns, English Ovals and more! Somebody must have smoked them, somewhere, but I never heard of them.

I don’t suppose that there are any proper, well-adjusted non-smokers who haven’t tried a puff or two as a kid just to see what it’s like. 

I can remember one summer when a cousin who was eight months older, Chuck, the son of a Lutheran pastor in Aberdeen, enticed me to walk to a baseball field about two blocks away from his father’s church. 

Once there, we slowly walked through the stands picking up the longest discarded butts, snipped off both the end with remaining ashes and the one that touched lips and dropped the remains into an empty Campbell’s Soup can. Once we figured we had enough, we rolled some of the salvaged tobacco into a purloined cigarette paper, lit it with what used to be called  “a kitchen match” and took turns trying to suck the smoke into our lungs. 

This was followed by the sound of two boys coughing and spitting and vowing to never try it again. 

I don’t think Chuck ever did smoke again, not even when he joined the Marines, 10 or so years later. I joined the Army the following year and fell for the “10 packs for a dollar” enticement offered to servicemen in those days. 

It took more than just a few attempts to quit the addiction. I once mentioned in a column, some time ago, that I thought I could easily quit if I smoked a pipe because I didn’t inhale — just took a few puffs and then blew them out. 

Believe me, nicotine can soak its way inside of you however it’s used!  

And that includes whatever they call those smoke things today as well.


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at