I used to smoke cigarettes. Most of my contemporaries did, and while that’s no excuse it does make it more understandable. To be sure, this was long before they were even five dollars a pack. Having quit more than twenty five years ago I marvel at what they cost today. I remember a trip to Canada while I still smoked. With Canada’s higher taxes, cigarettes cost five dollars a pack there.
I remember asking if the price made a difference to the number of people who bought them. I was told that the taxes on cigarettes and liquor paid for important things. Apparently the price to be paid was no deterrent. It might have been for me, but then I quit several times and still fell back into the habit. It took a lot more than cost to get me to quit. I reached a point when I really wanted to because I didn’t feel good when I smoked.
When I was growing up my mother and father smoked cigarettes. Most people did, even if only occasionally. Although she didn’t smoke, my great aunt kept a box with lots of cigarettes in it for smoking during cocktails or after dinner. It was the sophisticated thing to do. All the movie stars did it. If you watch a movie from the thirties or forties almost everyone is lighting up.
My mother did quit. She lived to be 98. Despite the fact that his smoke affected her, my father never did. He died at 76. I know smoking contributed to the illness that took his life. However in those days who knew? The romance of sharing a cigarette with one’s date or a boyfriend lighting two cigarettes before passing one over prevailed in the public’s consciousness.
I had my first cigarette at fifteen. I was in high school and out with two classmates at lunch. When they lit up I asked for one too. “I didn’t know you smoked,” one said as she offered her pack. I nodded, lit up nonchalantly and then coughed and coughed. They laughed at me. However I persisted. I wanted to be one of the cool girls. By the time I quit I was glad to do so.
I feel sad when I see people smoking cigarettes. They are paying money to deplete their immune systems and make their bodies vulnerable to a host of diseases. They are inhaling carbon dioxide as well as exhaling a substance that can make others ill. And I used to do it myself. I have no real excuse for my behavior. However, one thing that helped me was a realization that came to me some years before I quit for good.
I was on the telephone with a friend when I lit up. As I chatted I ignored my cigarette burned merrily away in the ashtray. After I hung up I looked at it. The cigarette was smoking itself. It didn’t even need me to smoke it. On occasion this thought would return to remind me I really didn’t need to smoke. One day I was able to confirm this truth and quit for good. I wish all smokers well and hope that one day they will be able to do that too.
Photo and Blog by Tasha Halpert