Day 208. Not Easy

I read on Facebook yesterday, a cousin of mine was celebrating her tenth anniversary of not smoking.  Good for her!  It’s quite an achievement.  And I know, becausebutts I quit.  It’s got to be twenty-five years ago.  Long time.

Of course when I started to smoke we had no idea it was bad for us.  Actors smoked, even in movies.  My parents both smoked.  Probably most of the people I knew, smoked.  Although I didn’t start when all my friends did.  I was on one of those teen tours and got terribly bored with one of our stops.

Kenora, Ontario.  Nothing to do on a good day, and it rained for the two or three days we were there.  That was when I started smoking.  Not the smartest move I’ve ever made, but I was a kid.

At the beginning it wasn’t too bad.  But as time went by, I smoked more and more and more.  Until I was up to almost two packs a day.  Until I’d order a pizza at midnight, not because I was hungry, but so I could also order a pack or two of cigarettes.  The pizza would go into the freezer.

Disgusting.  I know it now, but back then, nobody would have said “boo” to me.  They’d probably done similar things themselves.

When I think of some of the stunts I pulled, I can’t believe I could have been so dumb:  I’d go to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned; and before I was out of his office I’d be lighting up.  Yuck!  We’d go to the hospital to visit someone who was sick, and we’d smoke in their room.  Hell, they smoked in their room.  We’d ‘goo’ at babies, while we puffed away.  Restaurants had ashtrays on all the tables.  We’d smoke between courses.  We’d have smouldering cigarettes waiting for us to take our last bites of food.

Can you believe it?

Ogilvy, an ad agency I worked at, occupied several floors in the building where our offices were located.  I never went upstairs for a meeting, in the elevator, without a lit cigarette.  I might have just finished one, but the minute I was summoned upstairs I’d light another one.  Imagine!  And I wouldn’t be the only one in that tiny, completely enclosed ‘cube’ smoking.  When the door would open, we’d waft out through a cloud of smoke.

Boardrooms were always filled with smoke.  There were as many ashtrays around the table as pads of paper.  And they were always filled with butts.  I’d smoke in cabs, too.  On airplanes.  On trains.  In my own car.  In everyone else’s car.  And I don’t ever remembering anyone, myself included, asking if the person (people) we were with, minded if we had a cigarette.

The minute my phone rang, it was a signal to light a cigarette.  I couldn’t talk on the phone without smoking.  Same thing with coffee.  Or a drink.  I couldn’t start to write copy without a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  Or so I believed.

Gross.  Gross.  Gross.

And then one day I decided to quit.  I can’t remember why.  I used a device called a LifeSign.  It was the size of a credit card, about as thick as an iPhone.  I ordered it from a catalogue.  You couldn’t buy them in stores.  For the first week after you got it, you smoked normally.  And every time you’d light a cigarette you’d programme this thing.

Based on your smoking habits, you were then given anywhere from one to four weeks to quit.  Needless to say, I got the max.  Anyway, you could only smoke when you heard a beep.  Without your really noticing it, each day you were allowed to smoke fewer cigarettes.  You were gradually being weaned off them.  You were also being told to smoke at different times than you were used to.  And even if you didn’t want a cigarette when the gizmo beeped, you had to have one.

Today we’d call this behaviour modification.

You never knew when your last cigarette would be.  Until you heard a little tune, instead of a beep.  That was your signal.  The cigarette you were about to smoke would be your last.

It was quite emotional for me.  I was really committed to quitting and my colleagues had all been very supportive.  They cheered me on, every day.  Excusing me from meetings when I had to leave to smoke, for example.  I happened to be at the office when that final beep went off.  It was a Friday afternoon around 3:00.  I’ll never forget it.  I smoked the cigarette without enjoying it.  I glanced at the pack on my desk, and saw there were still three cigarettes in there.  I remember I walked to the President’s office and told him I was done.  That was it.  I was no longer a smoker.

They made a really big deal of it.  We had champagne.  And they took the pack of cigarettes I had left, the last butt and the gizmo and had them framed for me, with the time, date and year.  I kept it for the better part of twenty-eight years.  When I moved the last time, I finally threw it away.

To this day, I’m shocked at how easy it was for me.  I was determined.  And that’s the key.  Because it’s anything but.  So if my dear cousin is reading this blog, I am SO proud of you.  Well done!

23 thoughts on “Day 208. Not Easy

  1. I never used to smoke, then I got to university. Now I don’t, but even after less than a year of smoking I still find it a challenge – for those that smoke heavily, I have a huge amount of respect for them when they stop.

  2. Ok, I’ve heard about smoking at work but after reading this post, I can totally “see” it. And I understand why everyone smoked. (I’ve never smoked but I’ve had plenty of creative partners who did.)

  3. I tried it a few times as a teenager, but then I joined the Army. The “smoke’em if you got’em” mentality really solidified my smoking habit. I quit shortly after turning 30, but it was a good 10 times of trying before it took. The lesson, besides all the health issues, is about perseverance and I think that has helped me a great deal working towards other goals.

    • Totally. I tried and failed several times before I finally succeeded, too. I know I really wanted to. I was determined and that silly, little device really helped me.

  4. Great post that brings back similar disgusting memories. I, too, smoked in my young adulthood – those years that can be broadly categorized as “stupid.” In the early 90s, I worked in a highrise office in Chicago. We could not smoke at our desks; rather, we had a designated smoking room, which was actually a converted closet! Inside there were 8 or so chairs lined up along the walls, with a few ashtrays interspersed. The walls were stained a permanent nicotine-yellow. Ugh. When the building went completely smoke-free, I decided traveling 38 floors in the elevator to smoke outside in sub-zero temperatures was no longer worth the effort. Can’t believe it took me that long to figure it out.

    • Thanks. Yes, I remember designated smoking rooms. They were really gross. And I’ve seen people shivering outside just to have a cigarette. I am very happy those days are behind me.

  5. Great post, Fransi. I’ve never been a smoker (I learned my lesson young, after my grandparents died of smoking-related cancers), but my husband was a smoker when we started dating our freshman year of college. Actually, I told him I wouldn’t date him if he continued to smoke, and he agreed to quit. It was a difficult process. He is from Mississippi, which has a smoking culture, and he would receive “care packages” full of cigarettes because it was less expensive to buy them in Mississippi than in Connecticut. He dropped from 1 1/2 packs a day to five cigarettes quickly, but it took him a year to drop from five cigarettes to zero. I wish I could say I was a supportive partner during that year, but I wasn’t. I nagged him; I even scolded him. I didn’t understand the power of an addiction. I’ve never had one.

    • Well good for you for never smoking and also for being the catalyst for your husband. Smoking is an addiction, a very powerful one; and it is very, very hard to kick the habit. You really have to desperately want to stop. And you do need support and encouragement. Especially when your friends and Partners are still smoking.

  6. I remember those days when everyone smoked. I never did. They made me nauseous but I remember how badly I smelled anyway. The hair, the clothes all reeked. Now I can’t stand to be near anyone who smokes. I am grateful a few years ago smoking was banned in public places here. There are still smokers but they are gathered outside somewhere. Kudos to anyone who kicked the habit. What I don’t understand is why kids are still smoking. We didn’t know but they do.

    • You’re lucky. Oh the smell on your clothes and even your hair and skin is dis-gust-ing. I can still smell it. After I quit I had to even get a new phone. Not even Lysol got rid of the smell of nicotine. And I totally agree about the kids today. I am shocked at how many of them smoke. And they know better. But for that matter you wouldn’t believe how many doctors and nurses I see standing outside the hospital smoking. They’re totally insane.

  7. Oh god, that picture almost made me yak!!! I finally quit about 6 months ago, after using the e-cigarettes. I had to quit due to my health (well that’s why anyone should quit, but I have health problems) and now I can’t stand the smell or sight of the things.
    I remember when I started smoking. I was 13 and my friends and I would sit in my bedroom and chain-smoke so we would get used to them! Ughhh. Kat

  8. My Hubby started smoking when he was 13. Two summers ago, he decided to quit for good…for his 40th birthday. And hasn’t looked back. It wasn’t easy, especially that first two weeks; oh, man, was he ever tempermental! But we got through it. Now that his sense of smell has returned, he’s constantly complaining about how the cats canned food smells…;-)

    • Good for him! The long term gain is definitely worth the short term pain. Yes, once your sense of smell and taste come back life is very different.

  9. It’s quite remarkable how the smoking scene used to be, when you think back to it. Ashtrays on our desks and dinner tables, smoking in planes, trains, and automobiles … how the times are changing.

  10. It’s great how young children these days are totally disgusted by smoking – the adverts are really quite horrible and because everywhere is now smoke-free, when they do smell cigarettes it is really obvious. I’m hoping it lasts into their teenage years and I think there is a good possibility that finally it might.

    • Unfortunately the teenagers and twenty and thirty somethings here smoke like chimnies. I wish you better luck.

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