Inhaling Smoke From Burning Leaves & Cigarettes

Carolyn’s Online Magazine



A seasonal leaf turned over September 23, 2015, bringing the accoutrements of autumn: trees undressing for winter, their falling leaves often becoming burning leaves—filling the air with sweetly scented smoke.


I recall smoke curls rising skyward in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, between 1944 and 1954. My older sister and I lived with our grandparents at 20 Spring Street. The smoke rose from the curb during each fall ritual: raking leaves, jumping into leaf piles, listening to crisp leaves crackle under our feet, then watching the leaves burn.

When we moved to Monte’s second church appointment in 1990 I’d come to understand the dangers of inhaling smoke. However, leaf burning was a tradition and ritual of fall in that Western Pennsylvania community. Traveling into the town you could see the smoke billowing up, forming a cloud over the town that was visible from a distance.

Back in Portsmouth: I also recall driving from Portsmouth to Wallis Sands Beach in my grandfather’s Chevrolet. Open windows were didn’t prevent cigarette smoke from wafting into the back seat where my sister and I sat. It didn’t smell as nice as my grandfather’s cigar smoke—cigars he sat and smoked every evening.

The summer after my junior year in high school year I worked at a research lab in a prominent cancer research institution where I’d received a plum grant. An adjacent lab had a cigarette smoking machine that collected nicotine for research purposes. It mystified me that the workers extricating the nicotine would sit in the cafeteria smoking cigarettes.

Back in the early 1940s cigarette smoking was rampant. Stunning actresses puffed cigarettes held between red lips. However, I consider what happened to my mother really strange.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford

I was born Providence, Rhode Island, during an epidemic of military births. The hospital needed the maternity beds freed up quickly. However, before the birthing mother could be released she was expected to have a bowel movement.

After my birth my mother didn’t comply. “They gave me a cigarette to hurry up the process,” she said about the incident that started her smoking habit.

Things were changing in the early 1970s. The following is an excerpt from a December 28, 1972, letter I wrote to the executive director of the hospital where my son was born. He’d stated stated some well known facts concerning the effects of smoking on smokers, non-smokers, pregnant women, and the fetus in a series of articles on smoking.


I responded, from my experience at that hospital:

I refer to some of your hospital procedures, eg. ones concerning the maternity patient…You run a marvelous, forward-looking program for parents-to-be. Allowing husbands in the delivery room is to be commended, as are the parenting, childbirth, and breathing classrequirements for couples who want pregnancy and childbirth to be a family affair.

  • The paradox is this: You encourage parents to live healthfully yet you force them to be exposed to unhealthy atmospheric conditions during required classes preparing them for childbirth.

Said classes were held in a room with no limitation on smoking…My complaints are essentially ignored. In fact, I was told to sit near an open window, as if that would help during the cold of December and January.

Granted, the reasoning might be that smokers would not attend if smoking were forbidden. However, should those of us who really care for our health and our baby’s health be penalized, forcing us to choose between unhealthy conditions and the desire to have a family experience?

The executive director responded:

  • Your complaints have been thoroughly investigated. However, even though the instructor states that no smoking is permitted in the room, some smoke from nearby areas seeps in, and some smokers choose to ignore the directive. We will post ‘no smoking’ signs in the room as a result of your suggestion. We are also arranging a smoking room…that will eliminate smoking in waiting rooms in x-ray, physical therapy, laboratory and emergency rooms…Your constructive criticism concerning smoking is very much appreciated.

A few months later, on March 27, 1972, I wrote to U. S. Senator Richard Schweiker:

  • I heard on the news that you introduced a bill to limit smoking on a public vehicle, with smokers limited to a separate section of the vehicle. However, as a non-smoker I feel that this law is insufficient. The problem: smokers may have boundaries, but smoke doesn’t.

My, how things have changed. Utah, Oregon, and Vermont now have legislation against smoking in a car if children are in it. And here in Pennsylvania, Rep. Dom Costa (Democrat — Allegheny County) is sponsoring a bill that would fine adults caught smoking with children 12 and younger in the car.

I think back to being a child passenger in my grandfather’s Chevy. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was normal for the time.

We’ve learned so much about the negative effects of inhaling smoke—be it from cigarettes, leaf-burning, or other sources.

Scripture instructs us that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Whether or not you believe that, our bodies are wonderful and intricate. Why would you or I would want to damage that intricacy by subjecting its wonderfulness to the damaging effects of smoke—an avoidable situation?

Ours is an individual choice. However, a small child has no voice. To claim to love that child and then place their health in jeopardy…well, there’s just no excuse for it.


It’s like many other choices in life. Life has many risks of varying degrees of danger and harmfulness. We cannot remove them all, or we would not be living. However, exposure to smoke is a risk we can eliminate with no interference to living life to its fullest. In fact, eliminating smoke inhalation allows us to live life to its fullest.

And isn’t that what we—you and I—want for ourselves, and for our children, family and friends?


Australian Woman’s Mirror“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

JoanCrawford-colour” by Yousuf Karsh

About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at My novel site is
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2 Responses to Inhaling Smoke From Burning Leaves & Cigarettes

  1. Nancy Clark says:

    Amen, and Amen, Carolyn. Still, how astounding and large the issue of “clean air” and “healthy breathing” remain. It’s one thing for those of us who are a bit long in the tooth to deal with COPD traceable to second-hand smoke as per exposure to environmental conditions and nicotine smoke over which we (in our youth) had no control; but to endanger one’s own child while that helpless and innocent babe is still in the womb – in spite of every warning issued today – is…well, reprehensible. The photo you attached to this posting is worth a thousand words, but will “she who has ears” hear them? God Bless that unborn baby: he already had one strike against him.


  2. Dan O’Brien’s FB comment on this post:
    I’m surprised I didn’t get mentioned for burning leaves a couple years ago and watching the smoke rise skyward. Suddenly, a breeze kicked up, sending the smoke directly towards your home. An apparition, barely visible at first, came out of the smoky haze to investigate. There you were!

    Thanks, Dan!!!!


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