“HEY YOU! YOU LOOK REALLY COOL SMOKING THAT CIGARETTE” chided a megaphone-amplified voice from across the street.
Squinting, I saw this kid, probably 19, with a look of smug self-satisfaction beaming across his face. I could tell that in his mind, he was doing a public service by letting all of the people in earshot know that there’s nothing cool about being seen smoking. In reality, he thought he had found an excuse to shout his personal judgements at people through a megaphone like a dick.
See, I used to work in an office in Soho where, for the better part of the year, I was one of only two people who smoked. Each day, I’d step out onto the sidewalk for my post-lunch cigarette and mull over the rest of the work I wanted to accomplish before the end of the day. It was the kind of street where tourists flock to buy overpriced clothing and the hope for the chance that they might catch a glimpse of Kim Kardashian or Pauly D. As the routine went on, the sight-seers and the shoppers became part of the landscape.
So when that kid decided to chastise me, unprovoked, from across the street, my gut impulse was to run over to him, snatch his bullhorn, and smash it on the ground. Fuck that guy.
I didn’t do it though. Stammering, “hey… I – I hate it too!” was the best I could muster.
So-called “tough love”
“Smoking is bad for you” is an objective truth. I get it. Really. There’s been no shortage of public awareness campaigns about the effects of smoking on health an hygiene. But I can’t stand the side effect where many non-smokers feel justified in the belief that smokers are bad, disgusting, weak, and deserving of no sympathy.
Even those non-smokers who think they’re helping motivate smokers to quit always end up using shame tactics. When you decide to quit smoking, your non-smoker friends will always make a big deal about it, and tell as many of your friends as they can.
Usually the logic goes something like this:
Make sure as many people as possible know that you’re quitting so that you’ll have a huge “support network” that can constantly remind you about what’s so gross, disgusting, and pathetic about smoking. That way, when you have a craving, you’ll have to think about the entire village of people who will be disgusted and ashamed of you for being such a weakling. You make us sick.
This does not help. No amount of nagging, badgering, belittling, or shaming will make quitting easier for the addict.
Failing to kick the habit under pressure is humiliating.
Once you’ve failed, you become disgusted in yourself. It’s depressing. The self-loathing that sets in makes the prospect of quitting seem insurmountable. After a few rounds of that I’ve mostly kept my quitting-attempts a personally guarded secret. But I keep trying.
The following points are to be taken as a given:
- Smoking smells bad.
- It yellows my teeth and hair.
- It makes me short of breath.
- It might give me heart disease or cancer.
- Worse yet, it can damage the health of people around me.
I’ve written down some version of this list about once or twice every year for the last five years. It’s a standard procedure for most smoking cessation programs like the patch and the gum, each of which I’ve tried and failed with multiple times. This time around, my girlfriend is listed first among the people that I want to quit for.
She’s not a smoker. She’s not just not a smoker. She’s a runner. She’s way healthier than I am. She hates how smoking smells, and she notices that she can’t breath as well when she stays at my place. Now, I’m about to move in with her, and in order for us to get along the best, I know I need to quit.
Coping with nicotine withdrawal is awful.
The patch and the gum are just nicotine delivery systems in a different form. Most of the medications seem to make people suicidal. Cold turkey turns me into an insufferably irritable asshole. This time around I’m weaning myself off, slowly cutting down on the number of cigarettes I smoke per day.
Regardless of the quitting method, there are constantly moments that trigger a craving. Little rituals that you’ve previously been unconscious of reveal themselves as cues to light up, like stopping at a particular intersection on your commute.
In order to not give in to the craving, most of us try to replace one vice with another. But what makes me want a cigarette more than talking about cigarettes is finishing a meal or having a drink. My subconscious brain seems to think that one good turn deserves another, so simply eating or drinking more does little to kill the smoking impulse.
The cravings come all throughout the day. Nervous tension builds. Your fingers start to fidget. Your temper shortens. And of course your sympathy for others shrinks, primarily for two reasons:
- Non-smokers tend to have no concept of how nicotine withdrawal can feel like a panic attack.
- They don’t stop reminding you about your smoking. Even asking, “so how’s your quitting going?” often triggers a craving.
Many a chemical dependency coach lives by the doctrine that saying nothing and doing nothing is the behavior of an enabler. This argument doesn’t take into account how sometimes an addict needs the freedom to not think about their addiction. The times when I’ve gone the longest stretches without a cigarette are usually the product of having enough other things to keep me occupied.
Personally, my plan is to continue cutting down the number of cigarettes I allow myself in a day, to buy more snacks, and generally to try not to think about it too much. I’ll try the gum again, but I may not follow the subscribed program. Dwelling on the negative impact it has on everyone around me at times is healthy, but mental self-flagellation only leads to a downward spiral of anxiety-induced chain-smoking, defeating the purpose entirely.
I need a god damned cigarette.Image used courtesy of Dr. Lukas Brezak. Prints of the artist’s work are available at Society6.com