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, because 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!