Why I Can’t Quit Smoking

I love it but I wish I didn’t

Photo by Handy Wicaksono on Unsplash

Cigarettes are my best friend. We live together, work together, look up at the stars, walk along the beach, sit through sunsets, stay up late watching movies, and escape the world when we are alone. When I am sad, cigarettes pick me up. When I am happy, they never harsh my buzz. When things go wrong, they are where I turn first, and they’ve never abandoned me in a time of need. When I need to think, they help me formulate my thoughts. On hard days, no one bothers us if we need to take some time together away from it all. All I need to say is, “I’m having a cigarette,” and people think, “Well, I’ll give them some time alone then.” There is just one tiny problem: They are trying to kill me.

For 12 years we’ve been together, and the whole time, they’ve been sneaking around behind my back, making my teeth yellow and my breath, hair, and clothes stink; lowering my immune system; constricting my blood pressure; increasing my cholesterol; then giving me anxiety, erectile dysfunction, and — eventually — cancer. It is less healthy than a daily kick in the dick.

A week hasn’t gone by in 12 years where I haven’t spent at least five minutes sitting and wondering how I can love something that is doing so many horrible things to me. Usually, I am pondering this over a cigarette. Then, I resolve to quit someday. I have tried every method there is: gum, patch, JUUL, meditation, hypnosis, Chantix, ultimatums from loved ones, calling myself a worthless piece of crap in the mirror, and so on. Nothing has worked. Nothing sticks. (Well, okay, except the patch. You know what I mean.)

In my experience, there are four types of smokers:

  1. People who can smoke socially and never get addicted.
  2. People who have been addicted but were able to kick it because they never liked it that much.
  3. People who are very addicted but don’t like cigarettes anymore and can’t stop.
  4. People who fucking love cigarettes from the moment they started.

When I talk about quitting smoking:

Category One is often supportive, but a little disappointed they won’t be able to bum off me anymore when I’m drunk.

Category Two often says that because they were able to drop it, I should too.

Category Three will start to trade failed-quitting stories with me or reminisce for months or years they’d managed it before.

Category Four smokers, like myself, say: “Aw, fuck, who am I going to smoke with then? We’re a dying breed.”

None of these people has ever offered me advice on how or why to quit. The main argument everyone likes to make is that smoking kills you. The thing is, not all of us are on board with this whole “live forever” kick. Life is pretty great, but it gets old fast. I think that might change for me if I have a child, but I don’t want children, so I’m not just going to go and have a kid to try to quit smoking. That’s a last resort.

So, I have some questions.

What is so scary about death?

When it comes to smoking and death, there is an odd fucked-up contradiction in some smokers’ heads. Death is wild and unpredictable, but smoking makes you feel like you have some control over it. There is an appeal to the idea of being told you’re going to die and it being your decision, your fault. That my death will be my fault in the end and not for some stupid other-human reason like climate change, hunger, inhaling pollution, sitting on my ass too much, chemicals in food, etc., and if I die for some stupid other reason before I am ready, well, then, I won’t have wasted any time not enjoying smoking when it happens.

Folks also often talk about how much better you feel when you quit smoking. Yet, every ex-smoker I’ve ever met from Category Four admits that, if it weren’t killing them, they’d smoke all the goddamn time. Category Four people become ex-smokers only when they really have to — family reasons, drastic health reasons, etc. And most of the time, they go on and off because conforming to avoid social or non-immediate consequences is weak-sauce. That’s because no matter how good you feel off cigarettes, you feel better when you’re able to have just one more. This is where I always lose people.

This is because most people have this peculiar trait I’ve never understood: They like other people. To them, I ask:

What’s so great about other people?

It is essential to realize that many people who end up smoking later and later into life are somewhat antisocial, cynical, and don’t fit in. Smoking is an immediate escape from every situation. It gets you away from people you don’t like. You can escape uncomfortable situations, take a break from high-stress work environments, and always have an excuse to take five minutes to yourself. People who are extra-judgy types tend to avoid smokers because we don’t smell like kale and no one ever expects us to go on a hike with them. Smoking is the ultimate quick-out to every social situation and quick-in to new ones if that’s what you want. And, when you meet other smokers, it is an immediate bond.

I’ve spent most of my adult life traveling, and almost every friend I’ve met, I’ve met smoking. This is because most smokers see each other and think, “This one gets it.” Or, simply, we have camaraderie over the fact that the rest of the world thinks we’re dumb, gross outcasts.

Smoking means you’ll always have something to do when people or situations get tedious or stressful. It means you’ll always have something in common with at least someone wherever you go. This brings me to my next question:

What do you do when you have to wait for things?

My father was always on time growing up (he’s a Category Four smoker, too, by the way). It was just one of those things, like putting the toilet seat down, that you do because it is polite. The problem is that 85% of society seems to be chronically late. This means that if you’re raised to be on time, you end up doing a lot of standing around. Smoking fills this time. It always gives you something to do. Waiting for five minutes staring at the sidewalk feels like an hour. Waiting five minutes while you smoke a cigarette feels like five damn minutes. Are you waiting for food at the restaurant? Step out for a smoke. Show up early to meet a friend or on time to meet a friend who is 20 minutes late? Have a couple of cigarettes. Boom, done, you’ve arrived at the not-waiting stage of life (that’s the best stage).

When you’re a smoker, you always have something to do. You still have an escape from wasted time and dead moments. In this age of mindfulness, people are always touting the idea of taking a few minutes throughout the day to collect your thoughts and “be” for a bit. Hell, we smokers get that. We do it 20 times a day. But, without the cigarettes, what am I supposed to say? “I’m gonna step out and… uh, eat a carrot?”

But, really, my biggest question is “How?”

Whenever I approach the idea of quitting, people insist on telling me “why” when what I need is “how.” For every “why,” I have 12 years’ worth of “because.” People love to throw facts at smokers like we haven’t heard them. “You know those will kill you, right?”

“Holy crap! I didn’t know. Thank you, kind stranger!”

How can you get away from something that you love while also being chemically addicted to it? It is like trying to get out of a dysfunctional relationship with someone you’re handcuffed to. It is a mental Houdini escape plan.

I don’t have answers to any of these questions. No one seems to. People don’t say them anymore because we’re supposed to quit. After all, society tells us it’s gross, tells us it’s killing other people and ourselves, tells us we should be ashamed of ourselves, so we smoke in little glass boxes and in alleyways to avoid people’s disdain. Many of us, though, still want to quit, and the current advice doesn’t work. It only works for “most” people. For it to work, we have to love life, love people, fear death, worry about our image, be a part of someone else’s world.

You might ask why I’d want to quit if I genuinely believe all these things. The truth is, I know pain is coming. I’ve experienced the pain of bad habits come due. I know this will likely be the same. I don’t want to face that pain. The problem is, that isn’t reason enough. The brain doesn’t hold onto the memory of physical pain the way it does mental pain. I know it will hurt, but I cannot visualize it enough to make it a motivation. Instead, I’m trying to figure out another way.

Is there something out there to help us quit that addresses it for those of us who know the truth? Cigarettes are delicious. Other people aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Life is too long. But still, these fuckers are poison.

Columnist and author. My writing is like a bunch of people at a party trying to tell different jokes at the same time. benjamindaviswriter.com

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