Buying Poison

Irina Echarry


I saw him knock on the door of Pedro’s house.  He stretched out his hand holding money and left with the packet in hand.  He must have been barely nine.  While he was walking I saw him raise the little box to his nose, close his eyes and take a deep whiff.  Anyone would have thought he had breathed in the aroma of some kind of extremely rich candy.

At Pedro’s house they sell cigarettes; it was a way the family found to survive the disastrous years of the 1990s, and that custom has persisted.  It’s normal that people try to improve their family budget.

What’s different about that place is that around there parade everyone from police officers addicted to smoking, pregnant women, sick old people, drivers from the bus stop on the corner… and even young kids who come to buy poison for their parents.

Pedro is well along in years now, but at one time he was known as a correct person, someone of principles, recognized as being among the “National Vanguard” on his job and an active participant in activities carried out on his block.

When one speaks of someone worthy of respect, immediately his name comes to the mind of any neighbor.  However, for Pedro —that integral person, filled with good values— the crime his family is committing doesn’t cross his mind.

Placed in the vortex of survival, he forgets that childhood should be a time of clean healthy dreams. Their games should be innocent, until they grow up and collide with the harshness of daily life.

Someone (among the few who noticed the situation) once told Pedro he shouldn’t sell cigarettes to minors, but he smiled obliviously and said, “It’s that their parents send them…”

It’s true that parents should instead be putting sweets, books and toys in the hands of their children, but it’s also true that Pedro and his family are contributing to opening the doors of addiction to little ones in process of growth.

Isn’t it better that they choose —when they’re mature— whether they will or won’t enter the world of tobacco?

2 thoughts on “Buying Poison

  • Smoking, part 2:
    I’ll never forget visiting a “school to the countryside” on the Isla de Juventud in 1970, and seeing the students and their (not much older) teachers both “lighting up” during study-breaks. It was refreshing to see the social distance between teacher and student almost erased. At the time, I contrasted this open smoking with what occured in my own high school, in Miami, a decade earier, where students had to sneak smokes in the bathrooms, constantly on the look-out for patrolling teachers, as smoking would cost a detention for the first offence, a suspension from school the second. Of course now, with the dangers of smoking generally known, attitudes have changed (although even then some of us knew of the health consequences). I don’t know how I ever avoided becoming a smoker. As a sailor in the U.S.Navy (1961-65), I remember tobacco company representatives constantly distributing free packs of cigarettes in order to hook new customers.

  • At least, Irina, the neighbors are not selling crack cocaine, or methamphetamine, or even, as is the case in Central and South America, glue that kids sniff to get high. In all the latter cases, life is shorter, more brutish and violent. Also, smoking is good for the social security system, as most smokers die off in their 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s, and hence never reach retirement age and draw their pensions. Up here in the EE.UU. parents put sweets into the hands of their children (or, by default, allow their children to eat a plethora of sweets or sugared-down cerials), thus contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes, which also significantly lowers life span.

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