Smoking was a Rite of Passage

I remember when it was cool to smoke cigarettes. I even remember when it was cool to use the word “cool.” Back when my middle-school played Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in the lunch room and nobody thought it might have dirty connotations. Macaulay Caulkin was still Home Alone and the Never Land Ranch would just be another place to smoke pot.

Ten years later, everyone wants me to quit

I remember when it was cool to smoke cigarettes. I even remember when it was cool to use the word “cool.” Back when my middle-school played Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in the lunch room and nobody thought it might have dirty connotations. Macaulay Caulkin was still Home Alone and the Never Land Ranch would just be another place to smoke pot.

It was easy to steal cigarettes then; more people smoked. Smoking was this huge dynasty of Observers and Reporters. There were those of us who observed our parents smoke or watched as our chemistry teacher created perfect circles with his mouth on break. And then there were those of us who reported to each other if we were able to score a pack of Player’s Light or a blessed few Number 7s. I had a friend who stole cartons of cigarettes from her uncle and never got caught. I felt bad about it, sure, but only the Fit Survive. And to fit in our group you had to smoke cigarettes or at the very least, pretend. Smoking was a rite of passage; right up there with fantasizing about Leonardo Dicaprio and that brunette from Saved by the Bell.

Ten years later, I make sure my Craven A menthols are tucked safe in my purse. I make sure I have a lighter in my coat pocket. I work in an office where my co-worker tells me the smell of cigarettes makes her ill; my boss tells me to stay 10 feet away from her after smoking because the smell of cigarettes makes her cough. I point out that she’s had bronchitis for a month, but my statement isn’t well received. Can second-hand smoke, delivered in a confined office, cause cancer?

I decide to spray a splash of perfume on after a cigarette. I wash my hands three times. My co-worker, who I hesitate to say I dislike, looks at me: “I’m allergic to perfume.” The next day, thinking I’m really quite brilliant, I stash a small bottle of Febreeze in my purse and lightly douse myself in it after smoking. My boss starts coughing; or maybe she’s gagging, it’s hard to tell. She’s making strange noises from her desk. My co-worker is turning a fan on. I tell her that menthol cigarettes smell minty; her back to me, she states: “No, they smell gross.”

Would I be lying if I said I wish I owned a baseball bat at times like these? Of course, this is purely hypothetical, but I dream of it as I work. I dream of the cigarette I will smoke walking home. Walking isn’t the same without smoking: much like walking isn’t the same without an iPod full of relatively shitty indie bands and great classic rock.

I sit at my desk at home, a cigarette clutched in my hand, and I decide to quit. I buy the patch; I buy Nicorette, sugar-free candy, a digital scale so I don’t gain weight. I join the gym and put inspirational music on my iPod: Elliot Smith and the Sex Pistols, Kurt Cobain Unplugged in New York. Sure, they all died by their own hand — but I assume that hand had a cigarette in it. It’s strangely inspiring. Or maybe I’m just strange

• • •

Day One is going well, better than I expected. My house smells like incense and not nicotine: at this rate my cat might avoid getting lung cancer. My Nicorette patch is placed firmly on my back and aside from pacing back and forth a bit, it’s going great.

Day Two isn’t nearly as easy. The goddamn patch keeps coming off. It should come with a disclaimer: do not bathe, work-out, or plan to be intimate while wearing. Invest in strong anti-itch cream as your skin will burn and turn red. The gum burns my mouth; an acrid combination of toothpaste and latex. My resolve is wearing thin. Give me a cigarette. Please.

Day Three finds me standing in line at the gas station, my head hung low, asking for a pack of cigarettes. I clutch them in my sweaty palm and rip the plastic off. It feels so familiar: the flick of the lighter, the quick inhale.

I’ve heard it takes four attempts to quit smoking, and this being my second attempt, I harbour hope that next time I’ll do it. I certainly won’t smoke for much longer as, I am, admittedly, increasingly vain. I would rather not line my face prematurely. It is not the thought of my lungs which bothers me, no, it is my 25-year-old skin. Still smooth.

So while I eat healthy and exercise, I continue to smoke. Maybe I should start adding wheatgrass to my juice and carrying a yoga mat. Maybe next time I quit I’ll cash in all my years of smoking and raise my democratic hand in an ode to health.

Day Four, I walk to the drugstore, smelling of fresh and minty smoke, and consult with the pharmacist. I ask him what the best way to quit smoking is. There must be a secret that I clearly have not found.

“You just do it,” he tells me.

I stifle a laugh, my mind picturing a Nike commercial: Just Do It!

You Just Quit.

Easy, right? M

Natalie Champagne is a local writer who is still determined to quit smoking — one day.

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