Nita Yearwood had smoked for years.
When the heart attack struck in 2000, almost five decades had passed since she took her first drag. Along the way, she'd smoked a pack a day most of the time -- sometimes more, sometimes less.
That heart attack set the stage for open heart surgery in Atlanta. On her first day back at her Union Point home, her heart stopped again. The Emergency Room staff at the hospital in Greensboro gave her daughter a decision: the doctors and nurses could do everything possible to attempt to save her or just let her go.
They saved her.
By the time January 2003 rolled around, she'd stopped smoking, but the lingering affects were there. Her left carotid artery was blocked and surgery was again her only option.
The day after doctors cleared the blockage, her heart stopped again and the ICU staff at Athens General Hospital brought her back to life and eventually put a pacemaker in.
Millie Smith's story is nowhere near that dramatic.
She started smoking when she was 15 or 16, and by the time she was 18, the farm girl was hooked. Sure, she quit while she was pregnant and nursing, but always found her way back to the pack.
She never considered herself a heavy smoker -- about a half-pack on a normal day.
Then on a September evening just about five months ago, she couldn't talk. Her brain formed the words, but her mouth wasn't willing.
The effects of the stroke healed quickly. The scar on the left side of her neck never will.
But the carotid artery that was 98-99 percent blocked is open and Millie has been smoke free for 21 weeks.
And people wonder why I've been so vocal in my -- and The Mirror's -- support for instituting a smoking ban in McDuffie County's restaurants.
I was there in the hospital when my Nita -- the grandmother I call Nana -- was sedated, and we weren't sure if we'd ever talk to her again.
I was there when Millie climbed out of my sister's car, slurring her words and crying at the thought of having to go to the hospital.
I was there when doctors in both cases pointed to one culprit again and again: cigarettes.
Now, I know what you are thinking, Mom and Nana were both smokers and that's different from the focus of the smoking ban discussions.
But it's not really.
You see, their smoking -- especially in public places like restaurants -- doesn't affect just them. For example, people who are allergic to smoke (like my wife) or people with respiratory problems, like asthma, can't escape it.
And, more importantly, they shouldn't have to.
Look, folks, this isn't about the intrusion of government. It's not about stifling rights. It's about public health, plain and simple.
And don't even think of trying to take this a step further and ask: What's next? Is the government going to legislate what we eat at buffets? Come on. The last time I checked, cholesterol just doesn't jump into your bloodstream from the macaroni and cheese as you pass by on your way to the salad bar.
But what do I know?
I'm just the son and grandson of smoking survivors.