Quitting Cancer Sticks

Fifty years ago, smoking was socially acceptable, and I purchased my first carton of Kools for only three dollars. Liberated and away from home in college, I could inhale freshly lit tobacco whenever I wanted. Ah, heavenly.

Smoking was fun until the cool taste of menthol turned afoul. Then it became a drag, imprisoning me. Cancer sticks yellowed my teeth and reduced my breathing capacity. Disgusting smells.

Data in the 1970s about cancer and death alarmed me. It seemed unconscionable that tobacco companies were adding tar, nicotine, and cyanide to cigs and advertisers were misleading me about the dangers of smoking. I couldn’t believe I paid $3,500 per year in today’s dollars to ruin my health.

 
When my addiction reached a pack of coffin nails per day, I wanted to blame someone else: my peers, the sophisticates on TV, Willie the Kool penguin, anyone but me. But as soon as I accepted sole ownership, I planned to kick the habit. One obstacle was dating a guy who smoked a pipe and cigarettes. He mocked me: “Smoking isn’t that bad for us. They’re exaggerating those reports. Besides, you’ll never be able to quit. You’re too hooked.”
 
The challenge from Mean Boyfriend was on. I smoked my last cig and quit the next morning. But options were limited: no lozenges, patches, medications or classes. It was either cold turkey or keep smoking. I got through the headaches and cravings by munching a bag of baby carrots. Withdrawl was tough and, to this day, I recommend crunchy vegetables.
 
The harder fight was staying quit, especially during stressful times. I resisted temptations to pick up nicotine weeds again, even when Boyfriend broke up with me. Grrrrr, I can do this.
 
Well-intentioned besties offered, “Let’s have a smoke and chat.” Kool cigaretttes beckoned me, “We’ll help lessen your pain. Try us.”
 
As a nurse, hearing Kool was part of a $7.1 billion sale from Reynolds to Imperial strengthened my resolve. How dare those companies profit hugely from my patients with heart and lung disease.
 
Initially, my goal succeeded for health reasons. However, my motivation to stay quit over the long term has been atypical — the image of bumping into my old boyfriend and re-experiencing his arrogance. “Were you ever able to quit smoking?” This spurred me on.
 
In my fantasy, I hold my head high: “Why, yes, and good riddance to both of you. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Marilyn Barton

Hampton, Virginia

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4 thoughts on “Quitting Cancer Sticks”

  1. Ah, yes, Marilyn…those days of swirling smoke, coffee, and being cool. Such memories. As I travelled back with you on your journey of kicking the habit…I could almost smell the smoke..taste the tobacco, and yes..relive those days. How terribly silly we were on the health issue. You wrote an engaging and insightful essay that brought back powerful memories and a jolt to just how far we’ve come..”You’ve come a long way..baby..”Another kudos to you..Verna

    1. Marilyn Barton

      Thanks, Verna, for your kind words, and remembering how big a part smoking played in our dorm lives.Society made it easy back then, but society makes it hard to smoke these days, which is a good thing for those of us who quit.

  2. caroline martin

    HI oh so wise person!
    Thanks for the story about ownership, resolve, competing pleasures and sense of self. (not to mention the wisdom to see who loves what!). A real human (and) interesting story.
    Thanks for sharing. Just wish it was as easy to be a good influence is it seems to be a bad influence. Why does that crab down in the bucket always want to pull others back there with him or her?

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