Smoking Doesn’t Always Kill

Today is the Great American Smokeout, a day where all Americans who smoke are encouraged to cut back, or even better, quit smoking, if only for this day.

I stopped smoking for the first time on April Fool’s day in 1977. I joked that I did it that day so I could pretend it was just an April Fool’s prank. I started smoking again somewhere around 1982, while over-indulging with some friends. I guess the joke was on me.

I quit again in 1984, as part of a promise I made to myself and my new colleagues when I took a new position at work. I started smoking again in 1987, when my good friend Milton died. Perhaps I took my own life less seriously for a while after that.

I stopped smoking, hopefully for the last time, the first week in January, 1990. I still remember the last cigarette I had, after cutting back for 3 or 4 days while sick. We went to take our dog for his evening walk, and that’s when I had the last one. I had cut back so much that as soon as I lit it, I realized that this would be my last cigarette.

Quitting smoking is in many ways the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Smokers know what I’m talking about. Folks who have never smoked will never be able to understand. For at least a week or two after quitting, the thought of smoking is something that never completely leaves your mind. It’s like after a death, and for days you keep being jolted by the reality that the person you loved is gone. It really is like that. It’s a week or two of pure hell. Today, I’d like to think that the various gums and patches would make this easier, but I’m not convinced.

On the other hand, once you have quit and you think you’ve made it long enough that you hopefully won’t start again (see above), it’s a real morale boost. You wake up each day remembering,“I quit smoking!! I quit smoking!!” For days and weeks afterwards, you’ll have those thoughts; it really does feel that good. And yes, for months to come, certain triggers will make you wish you had never, ever stopped. One of the things that helps is the memory of how hard it was to quit; especially if you’re a serial quitter like I was. And the dreams … sometimes you dream you had a smoke. It feels so good, until you remember you’ve quit and then you feel terrible.

But oh, how hard it is to stop smoking. Smoking is a habitual thing. Phone rings, light one up. Finish eating, light one up. Do almost anything, and follow it with a smoke (careful, I’m going to start wanting one again if I keep this up for too long).

I want to offer my full encouragement to anyone who is trying to stop today, and my congratulations to those who have quit. The following video is certainly relevant to today’s discussion: