COMMENTARY | My first personal encounter with a cigarette was in my teens. I think that is the breaking point of a smoker. If you make it past your teens without cigarettes, you are probably safe from this addicting habit. I wish I have a good reason for this encounter, but sheer boredom, not even curiosity or the need to be bad, was the culprit. My best friend and I were spending a Saturday afternoon trying to think of something to do. Why we did not go shopping or bowling was beyond me. We decided to purchase a pack of cigarettes, Marlboro Lights, from a vending machine at a pizza place. We proceeded to imitate the act of smoking, failing miserably with coughing and overcoming the bitter aftertaste. I remember distinctly I did not enjoy the experience. But, somehow, my brain did not connect the negative experience to not repeating this experience, over and over again for the next two decades.
I was not addicted, as I never lost sleep or felt a physical craving for nicotine. With that said, smoking was a regular part of my life on a social basis. I would have a lighter in my purse even though there were no cigarettes to go with it. Who needs your own pack when there were plenty of smoke-loving friends nearby? My fingers will have a cigarette balancing in between during many important moments of my life; girlfriends chatting the night away in a bar or the sidewalk; every break-up, job loss, financial loss, speeding ticket etc. I rarely turned down a cigarette when offered, which equated to almost every happy hour, Friday night pub crawl, and serious conversation infused with alcohol.
Even though I was a shameless cigarette sponger, my smoking added up to approximately a pack every two weeks in my 20s. In retrospect, that is the definition of a smoker. Quitting was not something I contemplated because I never saw myself as a smoker. When the denial ended with wisdom that came with age, “not smoking” was challenging. I found myself craving to light up whenever I had a cocktail, a problem to mull through, or time to kill. A few times, I gave in. I did not resort to patches or gum, but food was a big contribution. Thanks to all the regulations of banning smoking in public places, indoors and outdoors, this habit subsided. All in all, it took almost two years to call this habit a thing of the past with a few derailments. And now, I am self-aware enough to know the difference.