He asked the question.
“Do you smoke?”
I hesitated for a moment, and my hesitation caused a slight frown of doubt to form on his forehead.
“Well,” I answered, “Not anymore. But I did in the past.”
I’d told the truth after all.
In a slightly lowered voice with a hint of concern, he asked me how much I had smoked.
“Not that much.”
Like how much? How many per day?
“Oh, I guess a couple.”
Oh my, a couple of packs?
“No no, a couple of cigarettes per day at the most, on average. But there were some days when I didn’t smoke. Weeks even, in fact.”
The frown disappeared, and with a dismissing chuckle he said, “But that hardly even counts. Can you even call yourself a smoker?”
That checkup was about a year ago. I’ve not had a single cigarette for over two whole years now. But you know the interesting thing? The science appears to have been right: those little things are addictive!
In the subsequent two years since I quit, I’m pretty sure that not a single day has passed where I’ve not passed a hoodlum on the street corner and thought, “Hmm, that smoke actually smells pretty nice.” Or this: “I don’t suppose it would do much harm to have an occasional smoke…except then I’d disappoint Angela.” In fact, it was meeting my future wife that motivated me to stop for good. Like I said, I was never a heavy smoker by anyone’s measure, and I think that very fact made it harder to realize that—shocker!—those flavorful little tobacco sticks probably weren’t that good for me after all.
How did I get into smoking, and how was I able to keep it casual? Contrary to what D.A.R.E. may say, simply taking a single drag from a cigarette won’t turn you into a two-pack-a-day smoker within mere days. Here’s an analogy for you: politicians cannot merely rely on votes from their party’s base; they also need swing voters to get elected and stay in office. In the same way, cigarette companies can’t count on just the support of heavy smokers; they also need a strong turnout from casual and “social” smokers to stay in business. Additionally, when a society has a large number of people who smoke only socially or when they’re “out drinking with friends,” that group helps perpetuate a general acceptance of the existence of their habit within that society. Or so it would seem to me; I’m not a sociologist. Still, I was in that group of occasional smokers, and–either through willpower or sheer luck–I luckily remained in that group for 6 or 7 years, without moving on to become a heavy smoker.
Most of my time spent smoking was when I was in college and while traveling, and those are two times when you almost have to smoke; smoking just seems to be part and parcel of those particular experiences. My surroundings probably weren’t conducive to quitting, either, since many of my friends fell into the category of “occasional smokers.” This seemed to be especially true of the people I interacted with in Germany, as well as my fellow students in the German Department at CU. I guess there’s just something inherently Teutonic about inhaling hot smoke into your lungs; maybe it helps you express all that Weltschmerz and Schadenfreude. And speaking of Germans, I should also note that while I was an exchange student in their country, on various occasions I was even offered after-dinner cigarettes by my host parents—and they were both doctors! I believe they justified their occasional habit by waiting until the kids had gone to bed and by smoking only “Ultra Light” cigarettes.
So why would someone even smoke in the first place? Good question, and I’ll give you three great answers:
1) It’s cool
2) It’s delicious
and, of course…
3) It’s addictive.
Unfortunately, any anti-smoking campaign will try to gloss over those first two points and focus all its firepower the third one. Sure, smoking is stupid, and sure, it’ll almost certainly kill you eventually, but it’s still something to do when you’re bored and trying to look hip and/or edgy.
I guess I’m not sure why I’m even mentioning all this, except to say that I’m probably glad I quit. You know, I’m sending a Positive Message to the Youth of Today. We’re all about public service over here at Sitzblog. I should also mention that I’m glad I’ve ended up in a country where most people don’t seem to smoke, and that I’m married to a wonderful wife who would probably browbeat the shit out of me if I were to pick up the habit again.
But still, when I leave work and walk past the little cluster of smokers outside, I walk just a little bit slower.
Ummm, don’t do drugs, kids!
(Photo Credits: Since I was only an occasional smoker, and since it was also the Dawn of the Age of Digital Cameras, I had trouble finding pictures of me smoking. These two were the only ones I could come up with after scouring my hard drive. The first one is of me smoking after a soccer game. I founded The Ünnëcëssärÿ Ümläüts, our German Department soccer team. One of our principles–besides an all-abiding dislike of soccer and an aversion to scoring goals–was that a nice cigarette at halftime was OK and even to be encouraged. It helped the oranges and Capri Suns go down.
The second picture is from circa 2004, I believe. It’s of me and my buddy Chris in Manayunk, outside Philadelphia. I believe his friend took the picture.)
PS- Sorry mom.