If You’ve Got ‘Em


Where the flavor is!

Where the flavor is!

“If the world was going to end in a week I could totally start smoking again.”

I thought this the other day. In my brain. And not in a humorously ironic way or anything. I was wistful.

I think this provides insight into the power that cigarettes still exert over me eight years after I gave ’em up, and two years following the discovery of a cancerous belly-tumor that could have easily killed the shit out of me if it hadn’t been removed in the nick of time.

What I’m saying is: despite getting deeply up-close and personal with lethal cancer, I still want a cigarette.

Thing is, I don’t exactly know why. The buzz is relatively modest compared to other funner recreational drugs, and even the non-death-related side-effects of bad breath, high blood pressure and loss of basic lung functionality absolutely suck. But dammit, there’s something wonderful about smoking a cigarette.

If you can forget that they’re killing themselves with each puff, folks who smoke totally look cool. Especially Italians. Actually, Italian tourists are pretty much the only people you see smoking openly in San Francisco these days. Everybody else kinda huddles in the corners, taking quick drags and pretending that they’re smoking marijuana, which is far more culturally acceptable around here. But the Italians proudly smoke them Marlboros, the men suavely lighting the women’s cigarettes with gold lighters and everybody gesticulating elegantly without spilling the ash. Man that’s sexy.

Uh, nice lungs?

Uh, nice lungs?

On the other hand, they can’t walk half a block in this hilly city without doubling over and clutching at their chests, but they sure look damned good while doing it.

I smoked for over 25 years. In my youth you could totally smoke at work. In fact, I got my first professional job because I was a smoker, and hiring me meant that my smoking co-workers wouldn’t have to accommodate some sissy health-nut anti-cigarette Nazi.

You could smoke everywhere in those days. You could smoke at home, in restaurants, bars, movie theatres, on airplanes, and while having sex. People would bum cigarettes off of each other freely, and without guilt. Hell, cigarettes were so cheap that even kids could afford them.  It was beautiful.

Then the Surgeon General decided to bitch up everything and tell us exactly what we were doing to ourselves with each puff. Later we discovered that the cigarette companies knew they were killing us and kind of forgot to mention it. The government retaliated by televising pictures of diseased lungs and making cigarette smoking illegal just about everywhere. One after another our refuges were taken away – offices, theatres, restaurants, and finally bars. These days American smokers have been driven completely out into the wilderness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth and it’s cold in the winter and you get rained on.

So why do they still smoke? I think mainly there’s a twisted cost-benefit analysis going on: how much quitting is going to suck today weighed against the odds of something catastrophically bad showing up in the next chest x-ray. Deep inside, every smoker has some line in the sand – some situation or event that they believe will trigger their final decision to quit – “Okay, when cigarettes hit $10 a pack I’ll totally quit…” or “I’ll quit when I get my first heart attack…” or “When I lose 25% of my lung mass I’m switching to the gum.”

I'm more concerned about this creature's ability to light the cigarette than his decision to smoke it.

Sexy Beast!

For me, the line was was when I could no longer walk up a flight of stairs without gasping and seeing li’l lights in front of my eyes. I was also occasionally having “events” during damp, foggy weather when I’d be unable to draw breath – which was scary you bet. So, with a little helpful nagging from my wife, I switched to the gum and eventually off nicotine altogether.

And in general I’m happy I did. I’m healthier and less poor, and HUGELY morally superior to those people who still smoke. Don’t get me wrong: I totally miss cigarettes, but I’m pretty sure I can stay clean. At least until the end of the world. Then all bets are off.

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7 Responses to “If You’ve Got ‘Em”

  1. The Sister Says:

    Good insight from an ex-puffer. Still so very glad you quit.

  2. Herschelian Says:

    I had my last ciggie 32yrs, 5 months and 3 days ago – but, hey, who’s counting? Actually I have never given up smoking – I’m just not smoking TODAY.

    • Paul Murphy Says:

      What Brand?

      • Herschelian Says:

        Back in the day it was JPS (John Player Special) because I liked the black shiny box and thought they looked sophisticated. These days the government tax on tobacco products in the UK means that all cigarettes are humungeously expensive, you almost need a large bank loan to buy a couple of packs

    • Paul Murphy Says:

      British smokes were too manly for me. When I was in the UK I smoked Marlboro Lights. Nasty things. I miss ’em.

  3. Marl Man Says:

    You know, if you were to have just one cigarette, it would do no harm at all…. just one… mmmmm.

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