A smoker’s de-light

By the

January 25, 2001

I truly enjoy smoking; those little nicotine-filled sticks augment just about every possible situation. I love inhaling deeply when I’m feeling stressed and lightly when I’m feeling meek. I love exhaling with flourish when I’m mad at the world. I love the tactile sensation that paper-coated foam produces against my index finger. And above all, I love the quiet whir that emerges from my lips during solitary late-night sessions underneath the stars, warming my trembling body.

For as much as I love the act of smoking, I hate the infiltration of tobacco into my life. I detest the low checking-account balances that my habit promotes. Every time I so much as glance at the SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING on the side of my pack of Marlboro Lights I envision myself gasping, wheezing and choking for my final breath. Each night before I go to sleep, regret washes over me and I make myself endless promises to never touch those god-awful products again. In essence, I am the guilty-type smoker. I know there are two solutions to my problem, and I must choose one of them soon to end my agony. I can either quit or I can make peace with the dangers of smoking and the hell it inflicts on my twenty-year-old body.

I am going to quit. In fact, on three separate occasions I have refrained from any nicotine for at least two months. I went home over Christmas break proud of my quitting skills. For nine weeks I had not had one of those carcinogenic sticks created by Satan. Back in Minnesota, my best friend developed pneumonia the day I arrived home for the break; apparently she had been enjoying far too many cigarettes out in the frigid backwoods of St. Peter during her finals period at Gustavus Adolphus College. She chalked up the virus to not wearing a hat during her cigarette breaks. Any individual with second-grade-level reasoning can quickly deduce that the issue at hand was not the lack of hat but the vicious onslaught of tar into her bronchioles. I know lots of people who don’t wear hats, even when their mothers tell them to, and I don’t see their lungs filling up with fluid.

Sadly, I am partly to blame for my friend’s illness. You see, I encouraged her to try a cigarette for the first time as we rocked slowly back-and-forth on a rusty swing set at our old elementary school. The rest was history, and before Mr. Wizard could say, “Abracadabra! Put the potassium sulfate into the pipette on the far left,” she was smoking her life away right beside me. As a peace offering, I told her all about my success in quitting as snot poured out of her nose: I was running faster than ever before (I am an avid jogger), I could suddenly afford sporadic trips to the mall and, frankly, I smelled better. She seemed to like what she was hearing and, to my knowledge, she has stayed away from the embrace of Phillip Morris.

Ah, how I love to dispense advice. The problem lies in following my own advice. Somehow, I decided it was all right to have “just one, for old times’ sake” with a few high school buddies within a week of my pedagogical outburst. Within a few days, I was back on the horse: I found myself in gas stations at odd-hours of the night, forking over my driver’s license in anticipation of a little light-headed bliss. Predictably, I am still smoking at present. I am not happy with myself, and I find myself ashamed when I see people who cajoled me through my last withdrawal symptoms in October.

The health problems produced by smoking contain no surprises. Lung, throat and mouth cancers, emphysema, heart murmurs and heart attacks, graying gums, rotted teeth, yellow nails, reduced circulation in bodily extremities, sexual dysfunction and phlegm balls galore would never shock a faithful smoker. We smokers know what we are doing to our bodies, and we are doing it anyway. Or so I thought.

Would you find yourself uncomfortable looking straight in the face of a person with a prosthetic eyeball? I sincerely hope that there are people who can answer “no” to this question. If so, please contact me, because we should go bowling or something. Let me explain. The date was Wednesday, Jan. 17th. The air was tepid, the sky was slightly overcast and the time was ten-hundred hours, and I was standing on my front doorstep, ready to embark on a brief walk to White Gravenor. What better way to inaugurate the first session of Professor Stites’ Russian Popular Culture class than a cigarette? (I have heard rumors that he smokes Camel straights.) I propped the small tobacco-filled stick in my mouth and flicked my thumb across a hot-pink Bic lighter. What ensued next was chaos …

My hair burst into flames. Instantly, the phrase “stop, drop, and roll” began to singsong in my head. (Mrs. Virginia Anderson, wherever you are, you were a wonderful kindergarten teacher.) I think I smashed the fire out with my hand as I shrieked to my roommate upstairs. My head stank, chunks of hair dropped to the floor; but I had little time to waste obsessing if I was going to make the first meeting of my class. Professor Stites began the course talking about (what else?) the Great Moscow Fire, caused by the most influential dwarf in French history. I shrank a little lower in my seat and hoped nobody would notice my charred eyebrows.

At home that afternoon, I looked in the mirror and realized not only was I missing a chunk of hair on the right side of my face, but my hairline, eyebrows and right eyelashes, both upper and lower, were either blackened or missing. I realize now just how close I came to losing the sight in my right eye. I feel blessed that my vision began to peter out last year and that I was forced to begin wearing glasses. Without those frames on my face, I would have become just another story in the Georgetown University Hospital Emergency Room.

I will never see my dirty little habit in the same light again. It is definitely time for me to quit?this time forever. I detest the social awkwardness of smoking in certain circles, I hate the nasty stench permeating my clothes and I hate worrying about cardiovascular malaise and various cancers. Although I will miss my companion in the small white box, I am certain that I would miss input from my right eye even more. I’m also drafting a letter to the Surgeon General suggesting some new warnings for cigarette packs …

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It’s amazing how cigarette addiction can work to alter a person’s perceptions, even their ideas.
My neighbors had been living together for a couple of years when the guy part of the relationship, an avid cyclist/athlete, starting increasing his nagging for his girlfriend to stop smoking, especially since she had stopped for years and restarted at some time during their “coupling”. It took time but she actually convinced him to smoke during their summer vacation (both of them are teachers) so they could “quit together” as she said doing so alone was suddenly too difficult for her.
Yup…they’re still smoking years later…BOTH of them!
The odd thing is that he’s still against smoking though he’s smoking probably as much as she is but he got addicted badly and she does nothing to discourage him. In fact, a case can be made that she actually encourages his smoking too many ways. And, they married. And, I no longer see him on his bicycle.
I don’t know, maybe once addicted a person changes their ideas/perceptions, at least some of the time since I do know several smokers who aren’t so hypocritical as my formerly athletic neighbor.