Let's Talk Smoking
by Nicole Freire
There's been a lot of talk about smoking around Chez Freire these days. What with my eldest headed off to junior high soon, I'm practicing my "Please don't ever fill in the blank" speeches. Or lectures.
Anyway, smoking is one topic we've been beating to death lately because cigarettes are the easiest drug-of-choice to get. Buying alcohol and pot and other things take a little bit of finesse to achieve, but hell, you can always steal someone's cigarettes. Your grandmother, maybe your mom or your dad, often they are just lying around. And no one will card you for buying a lighter.
My grandfather smoked, my grandmother smoked, my uncles smoked, my father smoked and my mother smoked. I don't have any memories of my mother smoking, as she quit when she was pregnant with me. I do have some vague memories of my father smoking, mostly because he did it outside, and when he finally quit, he did this program that entailed taking massive quantities of vitamin B and he stunk to high heaven.
Here's a good story. When my father was in officer training, before he was shipped out to Vietnam, he caught a particularly bad case of pneumonia and was hospitalized for several weeks. His concession to the smoking question was to switch from unfiltered Camels to menthols ----- because they were HEALTHIER. Did I mention he had pneumonia? As in an infection in your lungs? Sheesh. Menthols.
When I was a senior, my friend (who will remain nameless, and therefore blameless) would steal her mother's cigarettes (Merits, if I remember correctly), and we'd skip school to go the local park and smoke cigarettes and eat donuts. That was fairly cool to do. The cooler thing was to attend a kegger and smoke while holding a red cup full of cheap beer.
When I moved to London for my semester abroad during college, well, I gave it the old college try (I love that phrase). I was in my 20's after all.
It was easier in Europe to try and be a smoker because I think they give babies packages of cigarettes when they leave the hospital. Everywhere I traveled, people were smoking. France, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, and Holland (where you can also easily buy other things to smoke. Uh, that's what I've heard). You could smoke everywhere, and I mean everywhere. You could smoke in bars, in cafes, in taxis, on trains, in restaurants, and you could still smoke on airplanes. Which now that I think it about it was crazy... smoking on planes! Imagine!
I tried, really tried, to be a smoker. I never had a particular brand though, one that I stuck with. I usually smoked filtered Camels, the "light" version and always in the box, not a soft pack. That wasn't a preference, it was just what the girls in high school smoked, and so that's what I went with. I never thought of trying out another brand.
I liked all the accessories, the ashtrays, the lighters, the matches, and all the little tricks you could do with a package of cigarettes. But I couldn't blow smoke rings and I never could do the French inhale.
I did, however, LOVE these matches. Bought them constantly, even if I had no cigarettes. I loved the box, I loved the picture on the box and I loved saying "Swan Vestas" over and over again.
Smoking was hard for me. I could smoke in a bar if I was drinking or with friends, but I could only smoke at night. Smoking in the sunshine seemed wrong. I'd think to myself, here I am in the sun and I'm holding a stick that is ON FIRE.
I didn't like smoking in a car because I like the windows rolled all the way up (yay, air conditioning!) and then I'd be stuck in a car full of smoke. So that was out. I would never put out a cigarette with my shoe, because that would be littering.
I would never smoke on a date, I didn't smoke in the morning, I didn't smoke after a meal, and I certainly never smoked after sex (am I allowed to say that?).
I had a horrible fear of bad breath, and lord knows smoking gives you the worst breath ever. Worse than garlic, worse than onions. It's absolutely disgusting.
But the hardest part of trying to be a smoker was that I never got the hang of it. What I mean is that I never got addicted. I never woke up and thought, "cigarette!" I just couldn't make it part of my system.
And how sad is that? That I was trying to smoke? Trying really hard. Trying my best to get addicted.
I kept at it for a few years, intermittently, here and there, maybe if someone offered me one. I used to smoke sometimes in this Irish bar where the bartender hated me because I always ordered banana daiquiris. Not only did I not enjoy smoking, I didn't enjoy drinking that much.
Then one day I was sitting with a friend of mine in a coffee house in San Francisco. I think there was a boy there we were both trying to impress, but I really don't remember. What I do remember is that for the first time in my short smoking career I chain-smoked. Chain-smoked with no lighter, just lighting one after another after another. I smoked for hours, until the entire pack of cigarettes was gone. Then I left the cafe, went home to my little studio apartment, locked myself in the bathroom, got into the tub and threw up for an hour. Dry heaved after there was nothing left to vomit up. Dry heaving on my hands and knees, knowing that I had purposefully poisoned my own body. I was in the bathroom for hours, and then stayed in bed for the next day or so.
And I was cured. I never smoked again.
But I know that most people get addicted fairly easily. They don't have to practice at it like I did.
My husband smoked for about five or six years, and I never really said anything to him about it. He didn't smoke around the kids or me. He would smoke in the garage or in the car on his way home from work. And we were in a tight spot emotionally for quite a while. I took anti-anxiety drugs - he smoked. We tried our best.
Then about 6 months ago, I pitched a fit of epic proportions. He had to quit smoking. The kids were old enough to guess what was going on and I hated that he tried to hide it from me. It's not a nice thing to admit, but sometimes I would go and check his car to try and find them (Kudos baby, because I never did find out where you kept them).
So he went to the doctor and got a prescription for an unnamed medication to try and quit. He took the pills for 30 days and then said to me, "These are making me psychotic and practically suicidal. I'm not taking them anymore".
He went cold turkey. He was pretty damn grumpy, and a real pain to live with, but he did it. He's only slipped up a few times but I forgave him for that because, unlike me, he was addicted. And I'm unbelievably proud that he quit. You go honey!
And so I tell my children, please don't smoke. My husband's mother died of lung cancer. My grandmother died of lung cancer. Please don't try to smoke so hard that you die from it.
I tell them that there is nothing more pathetic that seeing a group of young girls standing in a circle, all trying really hard to smoke. To look cool. But instead they look stupid and sad.
I see guys buying packs of cigarettes and doing that smoking trick of smacking the top of the carton on their hands, ostensibly to pack the tobacco really hard into the tip of the cigarette. I want to sidle up to them and whisper, "You know, those cigarettes are tightly rolled in a special rolling machine in a giant factory, so there is no need to smack the box 15 times. You just saw that in a movie and it makes you look stupid."
I'm not sure if my lectures on the dangers of smoking will sink in with my daughters. I certainly hope so. If not looking cool is enough of a deterrent, then so be it. If telling them watching someone die from lung cancer is awful to see, then so be it. Whatever works.
Mostly, I hope they try smoking a few times -- because I am under no parental delusion that they will never try it -- and that it doesn't trigger that part of their brain that says, "Wow! I want another!" I would rather they take after me and think to themselves, "I had no idea how many different kinds of lighters there were! I'm going to buy 5!"
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.