I was one of the cool kids, right?
I started smoking when I was about 15-years-old. There was a dirt road alongside my high school’s athletic fields where some students would be running around getting exercise over lunch hour while a group of us would stand on that road and have a smoke. I don’t recall we had much respect for anyone dumb enough to be exercising when they could be smoking. Nothing cool about that. Who wants to hang around with those kids?
I would bring two Pall Malls stuck in my wallet to school every day. After sitting on the wallet until lunch, they would become very flat, but would still be smokeable. One was for after lunch.
The second one was for right after school. One afternoon when it must have been raining, I joined a friend for a smoke in the basement of the Presbyterian church in our town. This was an historic structure first opened in 1766. We jammed cigarette butts into a very narrow space in the basement wall similar to putting notes into the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. My guess is that if you go to that basement today, the evidence of our smoking could still be there - a couple of butts from 60-plus years ago, perhaps some burnt match sticks.
I’m sure people saw us entering that church and thought how refreshing it was for nice young people to be so engaged with God that we would go there in mid-afternoon. In fact, I was confirmed in this church which was also the first place I ever became a member. I am forever grateful we didn’t burn it down by accident. Pews from that church were burned as firewood during the Revolutionary War and this church did suffer terrible fires in 1813 and 1835.
Over time, my bad habit steadily increased its hold on me. I smoked more and more on weekends and vacation days. As I became 17, then 18, I got bolder and bolder. Although I never kept my weeds in the cuff of a rolled up sleeve, full packs did get promoted to my shirt pocket for everyone to see. And, why not? I was a proud smoker.
Fast forward to adulthood. What’s better than a cigarette first thing in the morning? Well, perhaps the one right after breakfast is better. But, not by much. Then off to my downtown job having one in the car at the halfway point every day. Roll into the office, grab a coffee and smoke another one followed by group smoking in a meeting.
One-by-one, colleagues stopped smoking and we needed fewer ashtrays in those meetings. About that time, my kids started getting on my case. Dad, you should quit smoking. Increasingly, I came to grips with the fact that if my kids had gone to high school with me they would have hung out with peers who were exercising at lunch, not the cool kids inhaling on the dirt road. That was one of the few times in my life I haven’t been proud of my kids.
Fast forward again, this time to 1984. The pressure from my kids was burning a hole in our relationship. My wife and I were now buying two cartons of Winston’s a week at the grocery store and augmenting that with additional purchases as-needed. And, there were plenty of augmented purchases. An average pack of cigarettes at that time had risen to an astonishing price of nearly $1.00 or about $10 for a carton. Just the two cartons in the grocery store were $20 per week, or more than $1,000 a year. I was consuming more than two packs a day and my wife was over one pack.
Something had to give. We decided to target January 1, 1985 as Quit Day. Could we pull it off? We shared our last cigarette sitting up in bed New Years night 1985 watching the Orange Bowl game.
Neither of us has ever had another one. The only way to quit is to quit. Period. None of this cut down gradually nonsense. It was far easier for me than I dreamed possible. Four or five days of being a little spacier than normal, then it was over. No craving. No dreams about cigarettes. No chewing gum as a substitute.
A carton today is roughly $75. That would be $7,800 a year of after tax money before we augmented with additional purchases beyond the grocery store. If we were still smoking at our 1985 rate, our grocery store tab per week would be $150 just for cigarettes.
In my old age, I have gone back to my Presbyterian roots, but I have never gone to the basement of the Presbyterian church I attend today for a smoke. In fact, I don’t even know if we have a basement.
It’s been 36 years since my last drag. Once in a while I fall in behind someone smoking just for a little secondary smoke, but that’s it. Today, it’s really all about clean living.
If you’ve got a bad habit, you might want to think about what you just read. I never had a cigarette I didn’t love, but I quit cold turkey. If a dedicated smoker like me can do that, you can, too.
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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