Note: At the time of this writing (July 31, 2002), I have been smoke-free for about two days. I cannot guarantee that by the time of its publishing that number will have increased.
Okay, so until Sunday I was a smoker. Still am, I guess. Haven't had a cigarette in a few days, but I want one at least as badly as if I'd had one a few hours ago. No worse than that, though. It's just about the same craving that used to accompany every reach into the pocket for the pack and the lighter. Except that this time the pack is a pack of Gerrit's Extreme Ice bubble gum (with Xylitol, whatever the hell that is) and the lighter is, well, it's still a lighter (thanks, Becky), but setting my gum on fire just seems like a dumb idea.
And now I've quit. I went for a walk today. I counted the number of times I probably would have lit up. At the current New York City cigarette price of $7 per pack (that's not a typo), I figure I probably saved $1.40 by not smoking. In addition, I no longer smell of cigarettes. My hair, my clothing, my breath - clean. Girls on the street who might otherwise have shunned me for my fumiary habits may very well have given me a second look today.
[AND YET I REALLY, REALLY WANT A CIGARETTE.]
But I'm not going to have one. Other reasons to quit: my health (duh). Given all of the other heart-disease producers I've inherited - high cholesterol, hefty body, likelihood of developing type II diabetes when I'm older, sleep apnea - a pack of cigarettes just seems like 20 nails on the coffin. Besides, every former smoker I've ever talked to says that you really can tell the difference in your lungs after just a few weeks. Not that, as a smoker, I'm particularly huffing and puffing yet, but there's no need to get to that point.
What about being able to hang out with my family and not have to sneak out for cigarette breaks? Because the only thing worse than standing by the kitchen in the back of the bar so my dad won't see me smoking is actually having my dad see me smoking. That disappointed expression has dissuaded me from doing countless things throughout my life; it's too bad he wasn't around for this one (though had he been, that would also have been bad; my college life would have been significantly hampered in many other ways). 'Course some might argue that it was at least partially my family that started me smoking in the first place. I wouldn't dream of saying that, but some might argue it.
[YOU SURE I CAN'T HAVE JUST ONE MORE?]
And the thing about it all is that it started very insidiously. I'd be hanging out, drinking with friends, someone would offer me a smoke (originally Djarum clove cigarettes, but those things will kill you) - "Sure. I don't mind having a cigarette while I'm drinking. It'll make the smoke in this room easier to tolerate, at least." At some point, there was a slight shift, and I'd be asking friends for one - "Hey, can I bum a butt? I swear I won't ask again tonight." I even told countless friends that I'd never smoke enough to justify buying my own, but then inevitably, I got tired of smoking my friends' cigarettes (and, on occasion, bumming from complete strangers), so I said, "Well, I'll buy a pack on Friday. That should last me through the weekend. I only smoke when I drink, anyway." This worked for a while. A few years, actually - through my senior year in college.
Then I hit the working world. And suddenly, it was, "What a stressful day. I'm gonna have a beer and a cigarette." (I'd like to take this opportunity to thank MGD and St. Ides Punch for getting me through the first six months of my adult life, and if the money's right, I'll do ensorsements.) Nothing beat the enjoyment of hanging out on the back porch at 315 Boston Ave. with my housemates, drinking a beer and smoking a butt. And then I noticed something: I confided to a friend that while I still only smoked while I drank, I was a bit suspicious of the fact that there were nights where I thought I might have been drinking solely to justify smoking. I should have known to quit then.
But no, I kept smoking - a social smoker, as it were. And somehow my lunch hour also became a time when I could have a cigarette - or on the walk home from the bus. It's important to note that I was not drinking during my lunch hour (or on the bus). Still, two or three extra cigarettes per day, not really a big problem. And then it happened. I got into grad school. I quit my job at Harvard. I suddenly had three weeks pre-paid with nothing to do except hang out with my housemates, watch TV, play Nintendo, and - guess what - smoke cigarettes. Whoops. Should have seen that coming. Well, mate, you're now a full-fledged smoker. Congrats.
[CANCER, SCHMANCER. WHAT ARE THE ODDS, REALLY? I'M ONLY 27.]
But none of that matters now. What matters are the psychological arguments I've been having with myself for the last two days. I guess I'm lucky - the nicotine addiction isn't particularly strong; no nic-fits, as far as I can tell, so I think physically, I'll be okay. But these thoughts that come unbidden into my head, they're a different story:
- "Surely, I can have just one. If I see one of my coworkers smoking outside, I'll just bum one from him. It'll make the quitting easier."
- "What's the use in not smoking if no one knows you're not smoking? At least when I'm holding a cigarette, I'm defined by something, not nothing. Other smokers and I share a bond."
- "This gum is losing its flavor."
- "Maybe I can go back to only smoking when I drink. That'll be a good compromise."
- "Wow. I can totally do this. How much longer do I have to keep this up? Oh, right, the rest of my life."
- "Gotta be doing something when you die."
Because the bottom line is that I actually enjoy the sensation of smoking (most of the time). I like the first inhalation when you light the cigarette, wondering if it will, in fact, light, knowing the flame is doing your bidding. I like taking drags, pulling in that little bit of air afterwards. I like smoking tricks, like holding the smoke in, talking, and then exhaling to the delight of onlookers. I like the motion of bringing my hand to my face, dropping it, bringing it up again. I like having something to do with my hands.
And, beyond all that, what it really comes down to is that smoking is cool. Not in an "all the cool kids are doing it" sort of way, but in an "I am knowingly engaging in an activity that's both slightly socially unacceptable and more likely to kill me than anything else I'm going to do today" sort of way. It's the Rebel Without A Cause moment in everyone's day, the feeling that you're slightly dangerous. At least that's it for me. Because all my life has pretty much been played safe. I went to class, didn't drink (until college), came home on time (nearly always), didn't do illegal drugs (until college - and then only for about a day), didn't steal, hardly lied, was (and still am) often worried about getting "in trouble" and whatever penalties come along with that. But I was a smoker. That had some cache. Whether or not you can stand cigarette smoke, no matter what you think of smokers, there's no denying that what they're doing is thumbing their collective noses at fate, science, and society in one breath. Which, most people would probably contend, is sorta cool. Stupid, defnitely, but sorta cool.
[GOOD GOD, I HOPE I DON'T GAIN A LOT OF WEIGHT ... OR KILL THE NEXT PERSON I SEE LIGHTING UP.]
So now I don't smoke.
The urges come and go. I'm trying this cold turkey; the problem with a crutch is that if you're not careful when you remove the crutch, you can fall over. I'm combining the quitting smoking mission with a few other lifestyle changes - exercise more, eat fewer carbohydrates, drink more water, visit the dentist for the first time in a while. I'm pretty lucky that I never smoked multiple packs per day, the kind of habit that always had me holding a cigarette in my hand. Most days, I was at less than half-a-pack (and they were ultra-lights). So my nicotine addiction isn't particularly strong - no nic-fits, as I mentioned earlier - and for me this is mainly about a habit.
That's not necessarily a good thing, though. If it were about the addiction, I could do something for it - the patch, Nicorette gum, those smokeless nicotine semi-cigarette-like things. But it's not. It's a habit. And I'm bad at kicking habits. I've been cracking my knuckles for probably half of my life, at this point. I meant to stop that. My friends can attest to the fact that I have a habit of using certain phrases in my speech that, if allowed to go unchecked, lead to madness in those who see me for more than 20 minutes at a time. So I have to get out of the habit of having a cigarette before lunch, after lunch, on the way to the subway after work, on the way from the subway to my house, whenever my friend Lisa calls me on the phone ... oh crap.
[THE TRICK IS NOT TO BUY ANY OR BUM ANY.]
Those of you who smoke who have tried to quit, whether successfully or not, will know where I'm coming from. Those of you who are only social smokers, I'm not going to be hypocritical and tell you not to smoke at all, but I'm warning you to watch out. And those who don't smoke at all, obviously don't start. It's dumb. Get a more healthy habit, like downloading internet pornography or subway vigilantism.
That said, if you want to help me, just simply wish me luck. Anyone still smoking or former smokers might remember - but don't really know - what I'm going through right now, and it'll come off as condescending. And those of you who never smoked, please tread lightly, for both of our sakes. Comments like, "Wow, I've never had to do it, but that's gotta be tough for you," might have the opposite and undesired effect of starting me smoking again, right after I beat you to death with my shoe.
I can't guarantee how long this decision will last. In some ways, I'm hoping forever. In other ways, I'm hoping only until I finish writing this column. The hardest part, of course, will be my first night at a bar. The minute the alcohol hits my system, and it's not accompanied by that soothing, familiar, hand-occupying smoking motion, I'm not sure if I'll be strong enough to fight the urge. And it's recently occurred to me that of all of the friends I regularly hang out with in New York, one of the only two who never smoked cigarettes at all (Bill) has recently moved to Boston. So watching all of my friends except Paul smoke will be an extra-special treat. I sincerely hope I can hold out. I'll be really disappointed in myself if I can't.
But don't hold your breath.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
8.7.02 @ 12:11a
I have been smoke-free for about two days
So... how's it goin', then?
8.7.02 @ 12:14a
Oh God, the phone/smoking habit was absolute torture. Now I have a cordless phone. With a headset. So I can multi-task while I yap.
8.7.02 @ 12:30a
Ah. No I just have a front stoop and a desire to go outside whenever I'm talking to people who I know are also probably smoking.
But I've started drinking full bottles of water every time I want a butt. It's not nearly the same, but it helps with the oral fixation and is much, much better for me.
8.7.02 @ 1:46a
Yeah, drinking that much water will diminish your chances of kidney stones.
So it sounds like you're getting on a semi-health kick. The eating right comment gave me that clue. What triggered this?
Oh, and those girls who may now have given you a second look. Did they?
8.7.02 @ 8:02a
I couldn't tell. I was too busy craving a cigarette.
I don't know what inspired the health kick, but it might just be a summer thing, or it might just be time to make some positive changes in my life.
8.7.02 @ 8:36a
Adam.. I wish you the best of luck. I'm sending your column to my husband and my mom for them to read. It's the one thing I wish both of them would change in their lives.
8.7.02 @ 10:09a
I am so proud of you! Please don't ever smoke again. I want you to live forever and ever. Excuse me - 4-eva and eva!
8.7.02 @ 10:12a
Actually, I think the impetus for the great smoke-out was that cigarettes in NYC have gone up to around $7.00 per pack. That's just too much to pay for something that's ultimately likely to kill me.
8.7.02 @ 10:23a
Nice to hear memories of ol' 315 Boston Ave. The Nintendo, the stacks of empy beer cans, the screeming matches at 2 AM, the 3 foot tall stack of dishes in the sink. I'm actually impressed you managed to mention it without lapsing into "roommate from hell" stories...
8.7.02 @ 10:42a
Wait - wasn't 315 where I lived with Justin, Jay, and Scott?
8.7.02 @ 12:48p
Sure, going to a bar the first few times is tough. So is going to a concert. But once you realize that the only way top really quit is to really quit, it's a bit easier. Because there's always some bullshit reason to have one (i'm drinking; it's a special occasion; i haven't had one in a month), and all they do is get you back in the habit. I often want one, especially if I see someone smoking in a movie (man that's cool), but as long as I keep putting it off and putting it off, it eventually fades.
8.7.02 @ 12:59p
There you go. Stop smoking by procrastination. "Oh...I'll just have one later."
8.7.02 @ 1:03p
It works, man, I'm telling you. Keep saying "later, later", and eventually you're asleep and another day is gone.
8.7.02 @ 1:04p
It's not a bad idea. My current trick is not to have any on me or ask other people for them.
8.7.02 @ 1:09p
Best of luck. I was a twenty to thirty a day girl, gave up in jan. And feb :) My first patch was the size of a basketball, but they whittle away and I'm now cig free. Worst was at restuarants - at a big meal I made friends with another girl who was quitting, and we were all tense together. Then suddenly she rips off her patch and shoves about three ciggs in her mouth at once. I think my nail marks are still gouged into the table. I've bought a wide screen telly with the money I've saved though. Which is nice :) Have you got yourself a reward lined up?
8.7.02 @ 1:23p
Luck, my friend.
8.7.02 @ 1:44p
Thanks. A reward? Other than not having cancer twice in one lifetime?
I need to get a whole lot of things in my room repaired and/or replaced. That's a good idea.
8.7.02 @ 2:09p
Plaaaaaaaaaane fare. PlaaaaaaAAAAAAAne fare.
8.7.02 @ 2:19p
8.7.02 @ 2:41p
I agree with Jael. Take your butt on vacation, Adam.
8.7.02 @ 3:13p
Stuuuudent Looooooaaaaans. Stuuuuuudent Looooooaaaaans.
Or I could go Jael's route, whereby a weekend in Raleigh somehow outweighs having a place to put all of my books and CDs.
8.7.02 @ 3:39p
I'm still hearing the words "Smala" singing through my head. Not to mention flashing back to the days when St. Ides punch was the best tasting stuff in the world. And flashing back to the rest of the Summer of '96.
I have nothing to add here. I just felt like I was being too quiet. Carry on.
8.7.02 @ 4:01p
Adam: Or I could go Jael's route, whereby a weekend in Raleigh somehow outweighs having a place to put all of my books and CDs.
a) that's right, and b) I bought a used bookcase for $25. Then again, I don't live in NYC.
8.7.02 @ 9:32p
Flea markets rock.
Adam, $7 is insane. They were almost $2 when I quit in New Orleans. That was a strong motivator.
Mike is so right. You really do get over it more and more each day. I see old pictures of myself with a cig in my hand, and it doesn't even look like me.
Damini has that reward thing goin' on. That is a great motivator.
8.8.02 @ 7:48a
By the way, Adam, I love the title of this column.
8.8.02 @ 10:13a
Thanks very much, though I can't take credit for it. My roommate came up with a number of inspired titles, including "What Ifs And No Butts," which I almost went with.
8.9.02 @ 10:13p
Best of luck to you Adam. I'm ashamed to admit I was smoking a cigarette when I started reading the column. It is a nasty, smelly and expensive habit. One which my son berates me for everyday. May the force be with you :)
8.12.02 @ 11:48a
Thanks. I have to admit, I haven't been 100% good, but I'm getting there. Anyone know about any treatments that work better than cold turkey and chewing gum?
8.12.02 @ 11:59a
Hot turkey and mashed potatoes?
8.12.02 @ 12:08p
Even better - anyone have a clue where the term "cold turkey" comes from? Because in truth, I like cold turkey (very good with Russian dressing).
8.12.02 @ 12:28p
Cold Turkey: "The expression originates from the goose bumps and pallor which accompany withdrawal from narcotics or tobacco. One's skin resembles that of a plucked, cold turkey.... "
Here's the long version.
8.12.02 @ 2:44p
Nicorette patches. Seriously, give them a go. Every time I tried to give up before I'd end up crying, and then smoking furiously to make up for lost time. They do leave large red Death Star style swollen patches of skin, so don't wear them anywhere prominent!
8.13.02 @ 12:04a
I think you've come up with a great way to quit smoking there, Adam. Every time you get a craving, have a bite of a cold turkey sandwich. On rye, with russian and cole slaw, of course. That'll give you something to do with your hands and something to chew on.
Maybe that's why people gain weight when they quit smoking. Too much cole slaw.
8.13.02 @ 10:13a
Actually, it's because they forget to get the lean pastrami.
Okay, so I'm doing great with the not smoking while sober part. Anyone got a piece of advice on the drinking aspect?
dr. jay gross
8.15.02 @ 10:09p
At the tender age of 13, I was a 'man' and I began to smoke because that's what men do/did. Besides, a pack of Camels was about 18 cents. Yes.....that was a few years ago. I started with a heavy, but light, menthol type cig. called Alpine. Marlboros taste better [if there is any such thing as a good tasting cig.] I graduated to Camels and inhaled 2+ packs a day until I quit in 1986. I chewed that awful tasting Nicorette gum for 3 months and never had a cig. after the first 2 weeks. I haven't wanted a 'coffin nail' since....in fact, I have joined the ranks of vituperative anti/ex smokers who want the laws changed to outlaw cigs altogether. Second hand smoke is almost as dangerous. Bad stuff. Stay Cig. free Adam....food tastes better and other things your lips might touch .... well you know what I mean. Good Luck!! I know you can do it.
8.26.02 @ 12:44p
Thanks for the support. I have to say, though, that I don't think cigarettes should be illegal, or that at least they shouldn't be criminalized until we get rid of things like the internal combustion engine and forest fires.