Saturday, December 18, 2010

Just when I thought I was a quitter

I do not like quitting smoking. You'd think I'd be better at it — given that I quit high school in Grade 10, quit university at the midway point of a degree program in science and recently quit my job. I am, that is to say, a consummate quitter.

Leaving the warm, soothing embrace and balm of smoking cigarettes is an entirely different matter.

As I tell myself often, I like smoking. Yes all you wiseacre non-smokers, it is a contortion: a sort of mental prestidigitation. (Watch me pull a rabbit out of its warren.)

And we've all heard the urban legend that quitting smoking is harder than quitting heroin. That abject and absurd comparison nevertheless gives me some solace. I'm not, after all, as weak and easily-led as it would appear to the uninitiated.

I began my journey to full smoking-dom when I was 12. So it's been a long haul for a now salt-and-peppered man of 55. There were the usual reasons when I started this health-debilitating kick, peer pressure being the primary one. I was, I aver, the victim of such pressure. I was also led by the cultural pressures that suggested — in advertisements, movies and general society — that smoking was not only OK but cool.

We smokers know all that. We use it as the crutch we need to continue our killing addiction.

Twenty years ago the smoking rate in Canada was more than 50 per cent: a dismal statistic that included all adults and teenagers. Back then, teenagers (with me and others of my age the noted exceptions) told the folks doing the surveys that they did not smoke. These two decades later, teens take up the habit in increasing number; sadly, girls lead the way on this front.

Legislation and aggressive advertising have reduced the level of smoking in the Canadian population to about 20 per cent. A small part of the reason for the decline is that we older smoking adults have either already been killed by smoking or we're so close to death we have opted to sweat it out to a achieve a life without our personal demon.

We are rather far along to begin mentioning the other demons in this deadly piece: nicotine and big tobacco.

Nicotine is the principal addictive additive that makes a cigarette so appealing. Nicotine plays with a smoker's brain — always seeking another hit, another draw. Big tobacco companies recognized this many years ago. Their task? Create the best nicotine delivery system possible. They achieved that in spades — creating a huge population of slaves to the drug. Organized crime at its finest.

All of this written, I remain compelled to smoke. I can spout the rationale for quitting as well as anyone, but it does not alter the compulsion to smoke.

I am told many people quit; most of them (the ones I've met anyway) are frequently glib about their milestone: 'If I can do it anybody can.'

Friends who want to quit smoking should be encouraged. They've already been shunned in outdoor cafes, restaurants, public buildings, the homes of most friends. They need nothing less than a pat on the back for the effort, even if it turns out a failing one.

One day, we can all achieve our goals, however humble. Quitting smoking for the umpteenth time is among my limited goals in life. If I don't achieve that I may soon be writing my bucket list.

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