Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Ok, I’ve been pretty damn sick this week. I appear to have a classic chest infection, and without another couple thousand dollars to spend at the doctor’s office, I really have no choice but to just hunker down and get over it on my own.

To my immense relief, however, I’m slowly getting better. Today I was coughing and feeling like crap…but three days ago I was coughing so hard that my blood pressure was sky-rocketing resulting in stabbing headaches, and I had crippling nausea and waves of dizziness to go along with it.

The only real upside to getting sick is that I was planning on quitting smoking after my parents leave after their visit…and I’ve only smoked about four cigarettes in the past week... It’s basically like a head start, especially considering I’m usually a pack-a-day smoker.

Now, the non-smokers out there are probably asking why I was smoking any cigarettes if I was coughing that badly…and I thought answering that, and talking about smoking, would be a good subject for today’s post.

In a nutshell, I think the whole anti-smoking campaign is flawed.

The one thing anti-smoking organizations completely ignore is the fact that smoking feels good. I can understand why they don’t want smoking to look even slightly attractive…but ignoring the ‘good parts’ is really counter productive in the long run.

You see, before I started smoking I thought people only smoked because they thought it was fashionable and made them ‘look cool’. People who smoked were shallow idiots who were killing themselves for no reason.

The problem happens when you actually try smoking.

Basically, I was about 14 when I tried my first cigarette. I caught my brother smoking and instantly went into the classic ‘holier-than-thou, superior asshole’ mode.

“What are you smoking for? Don’t you know it’s killing you? Do you think it makes you look cool? You’re stupid! All it does is make you stink!”

Here’s the problem. While I certainly won’t blame anyone but myself for my starting smoking, anti-smoking propaganda always forces the same situation…Non-smokers look down on smokers. Smokers laugh and say non-smokers don’t understand.

Then, if you’re a dumb-ass teenager like I was…you take a pull off a cigarette with the sole intention of proving there’s nothing even remotely likeable about it, and that your smoker friend is an idiot for slowly killing himself just to ‘look cool’.

Here’s how it went for me:

I’d given my brother an hour-long lecture about how stupid he was, until finally, he basically said “Try it, and you’ll see why I smoke.”

“No!” I said. “I’m not stupid.”

“Fine.” He replied. “Then stop bitching at me.”

Long story short, I tried it, just to prove what an idiot he was.

Here’s the fun part…thanks to all the anti-smoking stuff I’d heard on TV and at school, I knew there was nothing even remotely likeable about smoking. It would taste terrible, probably make me cough and I couldn’t get addicted from a single draw…so I knew I’d try it, be disgusted and then I could go back to calling him an idiot.

I pulled the smoke into my mouth. It tasted terrible, and even though I didn’t need to, I gave a theatrical cough.

“Ugh! See?” I said as I wafted the disgusting smoke away. “That’s awful.”

“You’re supposed to inhale it.” Said my brother as he showed me how.

So I pulled the smoke in my mouth, opened my lips a little, and breathed in. The smoke stung the back of my throat and I felt it go all the way into my lungs. Coughing a little (for real this time) I blew the smoke back out, feeling a little sick.

“Ewwww.” I said. “That’s even worse! That’s…”

Suddenly, everything went warm and fuzzy. It felt like every inch of my skin was buzzing and I slowly became aware that I was floating above the ground. Holy Shit! I thought. This is AWESOME!

The only way I can explain the feeling of that first cigarette is to imagine being absolutely shit-faced drunk, but with none of the unpleasant side-effects. Think about when you’ve been drinking, and you’ve got a really good buzz going…only you’re totally in control, don’t feel queasy and there’s no hang over.

That high (and it really is a high, just like any other drug) lasted about a minute…and you know what? I wanted more!

I didn’t start smoking immediately, but for a few years, whenever I got the chance (say a friend or someone I was talking to would smoke), I’d have a cigarette.

I mean, after all, I wasn’t a smoker. I was smoking maybe two cigarettes a month, I obviously wasn’t addicted… and I smoked because I wanted to…not because I needed to.

Unfortunately, that’s the first step on a very slippery slope. Two cigarettes a month turned into two a week, then into two a day…and before I knew it, I was properly addicted.

Which brings me to the original question. Why would I smoke any cigarettes if I had a chest infection?

That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot since I started smoking. “Why don’t you just quit?”

Well, that’s the other problem with the anti-smoking organizations. They call smoking a ‘habit’ rather than an addiction.

Sure, habit is a large part of it, and sometimes I’ll reach for a cigarette and light it through habit and not because feel like I need one…but let me explain, once and for all, what a smoking addiction feels like.

First of all, remember that awesome ‘floaty’ feeling I talked about above? Yeah, you only get that for the first few cigarettes you smoke. Your body gets used to it pretty quickly. Within a few weeks of smoking you’re not smoking to feel good, you’re smoking to satisfy the addiction and feel normal.

I’ve tried to explain this to people a lot of times, and this is the best I’ve been able to come up with. I’m sure the other smokers out there can back me up:

Think about the hungriest you’ve ever felt. I don’t mean when you’ve felt peckish or a little hungry…I’m talking about the way you feel when you’ve been up all day, working really hard, and haven’t eaten a damn thing in about twenty hours. I’m talking about when your stomach is screaming at you and you honestly feel like you’re starving.

Imagine that feeling, but instead of feeling it in your stomach, imagine feeling it in your chest.

Now imagine feeling like that every hour unless you smoke a cigarette.

That’s why quitting is so hard, and the same reason I smoked four cigarettes during a week when I had a chest infection. It was just too painful not to smoke.

Basically, you’re in pain, your lungs feel like they’re imploding, and the whole time, at the back of your mind, there’s this little voice that’s saying “All you have to do is light a cigarette and all that pain will vanish immediately. It’s easy! Go on, have a cigarette!”

What all this boils down to is my one piece of advice about quitting smoking:

Just don’t start in the first place.


Woman atop her Soapbox said...

I quit last year and when people asked how I did it, I say, "I suffered."

It hurts to quit smoking and yes, addiction is the right word.


Terry Chandler said...

Hi Paul,

I hope you don't mind me commenting here, but here's my two cents on the subject.

If you can push past the physical addiction to smoking, you also have the social habit that you need to break. If you are a smoker, you likely don't even realize how much you plan your life around when you can have that next cigarette. That is especially true now when most work places and restaurants are smoke free.

One of my close friends quit smoking in Dec 05, and it was a MAJOR accomplishment, and she says she will probably always have times when she craves a cigarette.

I wish you the best, and I hope you will stop too.


Paulius said...


Oh, I know EXACTLY how much of my life is planned around cigarettes, and just how big a deal the habit/social part of it is.

My point in the post was that most non-smokers see giving up smoking as being ALL habit. IE, giving up smoking is about as hard as giving up chewing gum or lollipops.

At college I actually had a non-smoking friend tell me:

'The addiction's all in your head. You're not really addicted, it's just a habit."

My overall point was that, yes, smoking IS a habit and the social aspect makes it very hard to give up. However, underneath that is a very real and powerful chemical addiction.

Anonymous said...

you said that you weren't a "smoker"- that you only smoked once in a while, but that it was clearly a slippery slope because you smoke a pack a day now.

I'm interested in knowing whether it is possible to just stay as a recreational, once a while smoker- to not start smoking more and more but only, say, a few times a week?

(I guess the difference between cigarettes and other recreational drugs is that you don't really get the buzz with cigarettes anymore- just smoking to feel normal seems like a quality only seen in more intense drugs like heroine, while alcohol, pot, x, etc., will never make you do them just to feel "normal"- you will always get drunk, high, etc- not talking about tolerance here, but the greater effect)

Paulius said...


Technically, yes, it is possible to be an 'occasional' smoker...the problem is that it's HIGHLY unlikely you'd stay that way.

Every smoker I know (which is well over 30 people) started out the same way I did. They only smoked one or two cigarettes a week, weren't addicted, weren't going to get addicted and could stop any time they wanted.

The problem is that it's such a gradual process. Going from one cigarette a week to two isn't a huge deal...neither is going from two to three.

Long story short, if you put a cigarette in your mouth, there's a 99.9 chance that you'll be a fully fledged smoker at some point in the future.