June 2017

I Quit Smoking: I really did it this time

Author: Gary Vinton

No, really, I have. Oh yeah, you guessed, right. I must have quit smoking a couple of hundred times before, but it never “took” before, if you know what I mean.

You know exactly what I mean if you are, or ever were, a genuine cigarette smoker. Failed attempts become part of your lifestyle. Smoking is truly an indefensible habit, so patches, gum, hypnotism, cutting-down-in-stages and going “cold turkey” become part of the “I’m really quitting this time” commitment. But true smokers know what happens. The moment you gain too much weight…realize it’s the fiftieth time you’ve been incredibly cranky with the kids over the same 48 hours …or decide the “timing was off” because of stress at work…or at home… while fishing… you decide to have just one cigarette to lessen that pain of withdrawal. Then maybe you’ll have “just a couple,” but only at particularly difficult times of the day. I mean you were smoking a pack a day, so a couple will be okay. You’re still quitting.

Ultimately, you wind up buying a pack, because it’s embarrassing to keep asking people you know who do smoke if you can bum another butt. They’re reluctantly generous because they know you’re trying to quit. You told them you were quitting in advance, thinking it would help you accomplish your mission this time. They don’t complain about your grubbing cigarettes, but it gets awkward. So you buy that one pack of cigarettes. But you promise yourself you’ll only bring it out when things get really bad. Why, you won’t even carry the pack on you. Yeah, that’s it! You’ll leave that pack of cigarettes in the car. That’ll work! Sure it will. Like wherever you are, your car won’t be there with you, right? Right.

I called this one pack of butts the “backpack” because it’s really the first step in quitting “quitting.” You know you’re headed back to smoking, but you just won’t admit it yet. Especially to all the people you told or promised you’d stop. Friends would say as I pulled out that pack of cigarettes, “Hey, I thought you were quitting.” I’d respond, “It’s just my backpack so I don’t grub your butts. I’m still quitting.” My smoking buddies would look away and mumble “uh-uh” while exchanging knowing glances and a little sigh of relief. They realized I would soon be returning to my old likable self and eliminating their obligation to provide costly tobacco products to a hopeless cause. I’d be smoking again, full-time, very soon.

I’ve determined I am a “tobacco-holic.” Personal history has proven over and over that I cannot quit smoking and later have just one cigarette. That one always leads to more. I actually know people who can do that: have just one. It’s very annoying. These part-timers only smoke at cocktail parties or when they play cards or golf.

And they inhale, too! I don’t know how they can pick up this part-time tobacco habit and then put it down without becoming at least a closet smoker—that’s somebody who “doesn’t smoke” in front of other people. They smoke alone, in hiding. Closet smokers spend inordinate amounts of time thinking up lame excuses why they have to be alone, like “I’m going for a walk,” when it’s 15 degrees outside during a blizzard. “I-uh…like snowstorms.” Everybody recognizes this as bizarre, antisocial behavior and thinks you’re weird and probably need to be committed to a mental institution. Or, they find out the real reason is you smoke and then they think you’re a weak-willed, unreliable jackass whose next step is a thousand-dollar-a-day cocaine habit. Great choices.

My thus far successful attempt (as a recovering tobacco-holic, I have to say “thus far”) at controlling my lifelong dependence on nicotine prompted me to look back on how this insidious and filthy habit was introduced into my otherwise upstanding if mundane life. Besides, I need to place blame on someone or something else for my inability to do the smart thing. “Hey, it’s not my fault for deciding to slowly commit suicide with a legal drug.”

You see I refuse to take responsibility for my actions, inaction, or total lack of discipline concerning tobacco. If felons, abusers, murderers, pedophiles and conscience-less corporate executives can place blame on their environments, parents (or lack there-of), pseudo-ignorance or other outside influences, I don’t see any reason why I should have to take the hit for doing this incredibly stupid thing to myself for over 40 years. How’s that for a twisted but contemporary rationalization for moronic, negative behavior? Works for me.

I think I was 11 or 12 years old when the magic and mystery of the tobacco plant was first placed in my pudgy little hands. Around 1960. A time when men were men and women were women. And real men smoked. It was waaaay cool. John Wayne smoked. Bogie smoked (Humphrey Bogart to those born after 1970). Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall smoked. The network news anchors smoked. Even doctors smoked—both on TV and in real life. It was a totally acceptable and proven way to act cool and meet girls! Humphrey Bogart would say, “Cigarette?”

and some knock-out leading lady would respond, “Sure,” looking promisingly into his eyes like he just offered her a 10-carat diamond ring. He’d put two cigarettes in his mouth at the same time and light up both. Then he’d pass one to her. She’d take it and put it in her mouth…right after it was in his mouth! Whoa. Movie heroes would light up right before they shot the bad guy to calm their nerves or maybe right after they shot the bad guy because it’s so-o-o satisfying. GI soldiers in war movies always shared a butt before a big battle or offered one to their buddy who was shot in the chest (and through the lungs, no doubt). The wounded buddy was grateful for that last Lucky Strike they’d stuff in his mouth ’cause he was so weak he couldn’t move. Then the wounded GI coughs and dies exhaling his final big drag, right? Smoking was cool back then, as proven every day on TV, in movies and all the other media we read, watched or heard.

But kids were not supposed to smoke in those days. Any adult who saw a kid smoking would say something like, “It’ll stunt your growth” or “It’ll shorten your wind,” meaning you won’t be as tall or run as far as other kids. Fearful as these threats of humiliation were, it did not deter us from puffing the weed. We’d say to each other (because we’d never talk back to an adult) “That’s bull. My Uncle Bob smoked since he was 10 years old, and he’s six foot.”

My favorite adult anti-smoking rationale was, “You’re too young to smoke.” Does that mean as I achieve a certain age I’ll automatically obtain immunity from the dreaded shortness of breath and/or the humiliation of being too short for any girl to dance with? What the adults were really thinking when they saw us smoking was, “That looks awful” and “I wonder if his parents know little Johnny is copping butts behind the school? I’ll stop by and tell them I saw him smoking. They should know.” Then Johnny would catch hell from Mom and a smack in the head from Pop.

The really bad thing for kids back then was almost every adult knew who you were and knew your parents, and they told on you whenever you did something wrong. And my parents always believed the adults. Incredible isn’t it? My own parents wouldn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t smoking! Of course, they were right. I was smoking, and so were most of my friends.

I wonder if they’d believe that I quit. Finally. Only took 40 years. And I don’t know how I did it this time. It’s just that this time I really wanted to quit. I was tired of disappointing my wife, family and most of all…myself. Funny how people use the word “quit” smoking instead of stop smoking—like smoking was a job instead of an addiction. Now I’ve quit that job for good. Well, maybe for good. I did promise myself if I’m alive at 89, I’m going to smoke again. I mean who cares at 89, right? And you know what? It helped. I don’t even want a cigarette anymore. Hey, do I smell cigarette smoke? Smells good. Maybe just one… No, no no. Not again. At least not ’til I’m 89. 

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