All 5th graders in our school district go through a program called DARE, in which friendly cops come in to scare the kids straight. The kids learn the grisly facts and dangers, write essays on why they will never indulge in behaviors that can lead to addiction, and get a T-shirt at the end. I love the story about the school district somewhere in America that handed out pencils saying DON’T DO DRUGS! When sharpened, the pencils said DO DRUGS! and then simply DRUGS!

When Hugh was in fifth grade, the DARE officer was a young policewoman named Deputy Deb. Her reputation was tarnished when children started reporting that they had seen Deputy Deb outside the school building on her breaks, sucking down cigarettes. In short order, Deputy Deb was in the Deputy Doghouse – gone. That same year, I read a study which found that more DARE graduates indulged in alcohol, tobacco and other drugs than non-DARE graduates, so I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the efficacy of the program. Certainly, prevention is far better than remediation, but the jury is still out on DARE.

We’ve had a few other classic moments in which our kids were exposed to people who adamantly should not be smoking.

On his second birthday, Ian received a cigarette burn on his neck from a guest at my brother Jim’s wedding reception. The guy casually took a puff, then swung his hand down to his side, apparently not expecting a child to be there, and ending up branding poor Ian, whose heartstopping shrieks of pain I can still hear.

A few years ago we went to a carnival with my brother Tom and his daughters. It was Thanksgiving in Miami, and the midway had a surreal winter theme, with snowmen and ice skaters and Christmas trees galore. The kids begged for cotton candy, so we handed fistfuls of dollars to the weathered woman working the stand. Twisting paper sticks in spun pink insulation, she took a long drag on her Salem and rasped through a cloud of smoke, “Here you go, kids. Enjoy your cotton candy.” Nightmarish at the time, that line has now become a bit of a black joke within the family. It never fails to conjure up that bizarre snowy wonderland in my mind.

The most recent episode was Saturday night, when Malcolm and I went to a huge, outdoor, spooky Halloween extravaganza with one of his friends. We snaked through long lines with a depressingly high ratio of people smoking – many of them teenagers, and, presumably, DARE graduates. As we settled into the hayride, a recording cautioned NO SMOKING ON THIS RIDE. I said “Wow, I hope everyone heard that,” and Malcolm said “Mom, the guy directing us where to sit was smoking.” I looked back at the worker on the wooden steps and sure enough, a cigarette glowed in his hand. A raging inferno on the hayride would have provided more than a smidge of realistic terror.

When told this anecdote, Ian said “Hmmm, Deputy Deb Syndrome.”

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