When I started smoking as a teen, I was well-aware of the health issues. In Canada, photos of lung tumours are printed on the packaging for everyone to notice. I knew it was bad news, but there was something inherently bad-ass about smoking that my younger self succumbed to.
Part of smoking’s charm is fashion. It looks so stylish in photos because it helps balance a composition. Kate Moss is the most photographed woman in the world, and you can appreciate her smoking poise without having to smell it. She even smoked a cigarette as she walked down the catwalk on non-smoking day. Smoking is rebellious. It’s something that outsiders do. They literally stand outside to smoke.
Once you’re one of them, the ceremony of it empowers you as a master of smoke and fire. With a little practice, you can inhale the death without coughing. There’s the French inhale, the backdraft, blowing ‘O’s, not to mention some impressive Zippo tricks. It’s art. Even now that I’ve quit, I appreciate its sophistication.
All this cool got me curious as a teen. As more smoking opportunities appeared, I ended up in a loop lasting longer than a decade, which was definitely not cool. I was a chimney. I smoked more than my friends did. It had become part of who I was.
I needed to quit.
It’s been almost 5 years since I quit smoking. I didn’t need gum nor patch nor e-cigarette, that turkey was ice-cold.
It wasn’t easy, but I did it. As it turns out, what helped me is nothing new. I just had to rewire my brain.
The hardest part of quitting was hanging out with friends who smoke, specifically when we were partying. Alcohol and cigarettes were inseparable for me, and my will power decreased as soon as that second drink came around.
Telling the people around me that I was quitting was helpful because I felt accountable. There was a consequence of self-shame associated with giving in to a craving. Also, people avoided tempting me, and reminded me whenever I was reaching for a cigarette.
Quality over quantity
I was smoking around 15 cigarettes a day, I rarely went an hour or two without one.
Focusing on the quality of the cigarette ‘sessions’ allowed me to slowly trim my habit down. I put priority on the one in the morning, after my lunch, and when I got home. I tried not to smoke at all in the evenings.
Every time I wanted a smoke, I made it my me time. It was a time to reflect and meditate. If I couldn’t have optimal conditions because I was occupied with something else, then lighting up wasn’t worth it.
A bad memory
One day, on my way to work, I passed a man no older than me (I was 28 at the time). He was pulling an oxygen tank like wheeled luggage and it was hooked up to his nose. It scared me more than a printed warning on a box ever could.
I’ve seen people smoking through the holes in their throats on TV and thought nothing of it, but this guy haunted me. He gave me the gift of a grisly real-life memory that I would later call upon during my cravings.
Around the six-month mark after quitting, I was beginning to cough up dark stuff from my lungs. Apparently, that’s when the regeneration process begins, and the body is getting rid of the toxins from years of smoking. I didn’t miss the cigarettes at all at that point.
Reminiscing on times that I would light up—like after an amazing feast, for example—I now realise that much of the habit was just because I was bored. Smoking was a distraction that just filled the gaps in between moments; gaps that are now easily filled with a smartphone, or cake.
Smoking in the media is increasingly attributed to adolescence, being young and naive. It’s reduced to props in a period setting like Mad Men. Or Lady Gaga’s cigarette sunglasses. It doesn’t seem that pervasive. If I was a teen now, I probably wouldn’t start. (And a kid just lit his first cigarette while you read this.)
Now that I’m grown, I’ll have a cigar once in a while, like two or three times a year. A celebration cigarette just seems dumb now.