To Light, Then Suck

As you can read into the title, if you did “get it,” I’m talking about cigarettes, the smoker’s routine just before the hourly fix of nicotine. Why am I thinking about smokers and the cigarette today? It has been 18 years since I gave up the “coffin nails,” kicked the habit, threw away the butts for good. But it wasn’t that easy to give up.

When I think back on those days so long ago, I remember the circumstances that took place before I threw away the pack of cigs. It took a flue that lasted over two weeks, and then pneumonia that landed me in the hospital over night. It was the pain of not being able to breath because of those factors. Even if I could hold a cigarette up to my mouth and suck in the smoke from it, the pain from the effort would have knocked me out. For a total of three weeks I was in bed, no smoke, no sense of withdrawal, just pain.

I remember the moment when I stepped outside to take in a lung full of fresh air at the end of that ordeal, the thought of lighting up a cigarette crossed my mind. When I returned back inside to sit down, being extremely light headed, I sat at my favourite spot at the kitchen table where my package of cigarettes, ashtray and lighter were placed, laid out in their respected order. I pulled out a cigarette and pinched the butt with my lips. With a well skilled flick of the lighter, I puffed two or three times until the end glowed a brilliant amber, and then a column of blue-grey smoke curled upwards from it. I took my first fix of smoke–I choked on it–coughing uncontrollably. I threw the cigarette down into the ashtray in disgust. It was that moment that I took my last cigarette.

Kicking the habit was much tougher than the actual quitting part. I had the poor health of infected lungs to help me through the short term, but it was the long term that became the challenge. The years of lighting up was embedded into my everyday routine. Friends and family smoked, making it much harder to bear the reminders of the addiction. Peer pressure was the primary reason why I started, but the habit and lifestyle seem to reinforce it.

I remember several months later of being smoke free that I had a dream of me smoking in it. It was so real that when I awoke, I thought I had actually had a cigarette. I remember even smelling my fingers just to check if I did. There was even guilt! Fortunately it was just a dream. But those dreams did persist for the next few months afterwords. It was because of that that I started telling myself that smoking was beyond bad, it was evil. I associated it with evil governments, bad people, anything that tried to control people. To me, cigarette companies were no better than drug pushers on the streets of Ottawa or Vancouver because they sold drugs to clients who were hooked on their product. I could no longer be around people that did smoke. It offended me.

Now, almost two decades later, I avoid the cigarette smoke as much as I can, but I don’t give it the harsh criticism that I once gave it. Most of my family still smoke. They know the rules, when they visit, my house is out-of-bounds for them when they need their fix. I even avoid places where people are free to smoke today because of the filthy odour of the smoke. It was a joyous occasion for me when the provincial government in British Columbia band smoking in public places like restaurants and bistros. I visited my mother in Alberta two years ago, and we went into a restaurant that allowed people to smoke, I almost puked. I could not eat because the room was filled with the blue smoke as hundreds of people had ashtrays billowing out columns of smoke at each table. Yuck!

Hindsight being 20/20, I asked myself why I even started? But smoking was cool–you needed to be bad, and smoking gave you that image of being bad. Oh were we so foolish back then. I think it was harder for the girls. One of my sisters told me that smoking for her serves as a form of dieting, a means to lose weight because bulging hips and tummies are bad traits for girls who are trying to look the ideal thin look. Smoking seemed to help her cut back on eating. I knew from when I stopped, the first thing that happened to me was that food had taste once again. Yes, I threw on the weight after that. Maybe it was one evil for another I guess?

Nicotine — A colourless, poisonous alkaloid, C10H14N2, derived from the tobacco plant and used as an insecticide. It is the substance in tobacco to which smokers can become addicted.