OK, full disclosure time: I absolutely loved smoking, and I sometimes — sometimes being the operative word here — miss it dearly.
And, oddly enough, my fond memories of cigarettes most recently kicked in while I was listening to snippets of a radio program on the evils of smoking.
I know. It makes no sense. You’d think I’d be doing nothing more than nodding in vigorous agreement with the callers to CBC’s “Radio Noon” on Monday and the show’s guests as they condemned tobacco companies and exchanged ideas on quitting the terrible cigarettes and the need to have the provincial government play a bigger financial role in programs to help the thousands of Newfoundlanders still puffing away (that suggestion was part of a report released recently by the Alliance for the Control of Tobacco).
And I obviously would never encourage people to start smoking or discourage people from quitting. To argue otherwise would be insane.
But I have to admit that my more visceral reaction to the show as I was listening and driving along Torbay Road was to recall just how much I loved a smoke. To this day, if I’m stopped at a light, and happen to glance to my left or right and see a nearby driver inhaling the smoke of a cigarette, sucking it in, releasing it through the mouth and nose after it has given his inner organs a significant spark, my nostalgia is almost palpable; I sometimes even let out an audible sigh of envy.
I can’t help myself.
If I’m in my boat on a flat calm pond, trying to catch a nice fat mud trout on a gorgeous July evening, not a breath of wind, an idyllic portrait of the healthy outdoors, I occasionally think about how much I once savoured a cigarette in that setting.
The paradox — out in the fresh air and longing to drag smoke into my lungs — is shocking but true.
Even while sitting on the deck of the house, having a cup of coffee on a perfect spring morning (there is a scattered one), looking out over the ocean, the thought of a smoke is never very far away.
But, you know, that’s the nature of addiction. It makes little difference to most smokers what they hear about the harm that is inflicted on the system by nicotine or on the systems of people exposed to second hand smoke: it’s the pleasure derived from the drug that seems to take up residence in the neurons of the majority of smokers and former smokers that I know. At least it did, and still does, in my mind.
And that’s one of the reasons why quitting something as pleasurable as smoking is so tough.
In my case, I was smoking three packs of cigarettes per 24 hours, 60 fags a day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, when I decided to try and quit in my late 30s.
But part of my plan had to contain an acknowledgment that I adored smoking, that cigarettes were my constant buddies, through thick and thin, good times and bad times.
And that I would miss them.
That had to be part of the platform; there had to be more involved than convincing myself that smoking was bad for my health (which I knew it to be), that it was an expensive and filthy habit (which it was), and that I would be much better off, as would people around me, if I was to have some success in my efforts to quit.
And I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So I joined a program offered by the Newfoundland Lung Association at the time.
There were about a dozen of us, basically taking part in group therapy sessions.
There were people from the association at each of our meetings, helping us along. It was a weaning process; we’d cut down gradually on the number of cigarettes, switch to a brand with a lower nicotine content, and carry around a small booklet in which we would register the time of each smoke, the level of craving, and other factors, most of which now escape me.
Then, after a certain number of days, we had to stop.
To tell the truth, I was finding it a pain in the arse to write down the circumstances surrounding each cigarette, and I was sick of having to practically swallow the low nicotine cigarette in order to get a decent hit. So I almost welcomed the day when I had to finally throw the last empty pack in the garbage
Still, it wasn’t easy, to say the least.
But all the negative advertising in the world, even those hideous pictures of rotting lungs, wouldn’t have done much to encourage me to quit. I’m not suggesting it doesn’t have an impact on others. But it wouldn’t have worked for me.
What I did was admit to my addiction to smoking, recognize I loved it, that I would miss it, but that it was killing me. And that I wanted to breathe better, wanted to live longer.
I haven’t picked up a cigarette since.
And, yes, governments that derive a small fortune from the sale of smokes should be financially involved in helping people quit. (The same could be said for helping those addicted to alcohol. The government makes a mint off liquor and beer, but puts a miniscule percentage of their booze profits into rehabilitative centres).
But I wouldn’t hold my breath, so to speak.
And there’s a bottom line. There was for me. And that’s to face up to the fact that quitting the smokes is an incredible battle. It ain’t easy.
But if I could quit, just about anybody can.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.