Hiya, kids - Joe Camel here. I've swiped Ron Wiggins' space for the day to deliver a farewell message. Smoke 'em if you've got 'em.

Just kidding. Light up, for Pete's sake. Did I say light up? I meant lighten up.Guess you've heard ol' Joe's bosses have told him to butt out of your lives. No more of Joe's smug mug with a Camel dangling from that half-acre of lip, as he chills with his pals over a game of pool, jams with his jazz combo or tools into town on his chopper. C'est le mort.

Get it? Instead of that's life, try that's death, the death of an ad icon, yours truly.

Or is it? If you believe the headlines, my bosses are being hammered by a $300 billion medical bill. Add that to no more vending machines or sporting events promotions, and you'd think the cig industry is fagged out.

Fuhgeddaboutit. Nicotine still rules, little buddies and buddettes.

That settlement might bump a pack of smokes 50 cents. And government might tack on another buck - so what? We could charge a buck on top of that and still make out like bandits.

Know why? Smoking is too fun to quit for those of us in the know.

Think about it, buckeroos. You're 9 or 10, you want to know what the big deal about cigarettes is. You try a butt, choke, and everybody laughs their butts off, right?

Hey, you're no weenie, so you practice a bit. Kinda fun learning those grown-up rituals, the ol' French inhale, blow some rings, light up in the wind by cupping your hands.

And when you're hangin' out with your buds, what about how cool you look when you flick that butt into the gutter? Can you put a price on something like that?

Sure, the adults are always on your case about smoking. But, to borrow a phrase from your little sister, "They are not the boss of you."

Hey, smoking is fun. Sir Walter Raleigh knew it, Ben Franklin knew it and our brave men and women in uniform know it. And doncha just love that baaaad feeling you get every time you light up and mentally tell those people who rag on you to blow it out their surgeon general?

Before I go, guys, Ol' Joe wants to leave you with his favorite literary quote, from Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," about a lifer in a Russian labor camp who's starving but is so addicted - I mean so loves - smoking that he swaps bread for a drag:

"He tore a piece of newspaper off, rolled a cigarette, and lit it with a cinder that had fallen between the boss' feet. And then he dragged and dragged on it, over and over again! He had a giddy feeling all over his body, like it was going to his feet as well as his head."

Remember, kids, nobody can force you not to smoke. Sure, you won't have those convenient vending machines, and those store clerks are gonna be tough on checkin' the old ID. But you'll get by if you show a little initiative.

Hey, this is America, not the gulag, know what I mean?