Originally written for The Happy Quitter, March 7, 2015.


In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the whole world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was pretty easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in, not so much the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said, and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit off and on for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere – usually an office – where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction which lured me back to a habit I understood was harmful to my health, disastrous to my budget (and getting more costly each day). And made my clothing and hair stink of stale smoke. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes, than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering an unbearable desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after eight? nine? years? If I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker again. Instantly. It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

Categories: Anecdote, Personal, Work, Writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. It’s been 7 months since I quit. And I feel really greath about it 🙂


  2. Reblogged this on Let's Talk Lung.


  3. Smoked for 7 or 8 years. Started after hanging around with Pot pal.s I was smoking 2 packs a day at one point – but quit cold turkey. I didn’t lose any friends over it … until I quit drinking. Yup, you gotta get away from those people if you want to stop. They don’t want you around anyway, if you aren’t participating.


  4. I am very glad I never started and I think that is inadvertently thanks to the adults in my life when I was a child. My father, a smoker, used to get bronchitis and had a terrible cough at times. I’d see him spit up phlegm and mum somehow implied that the smoking was the cause. She was a social smoker, she told me she used to smoke before she was married when she went out with friends. I did not like to see mum smoke, it worried me. However, I think what really did it was sitting in the back of a car with the windows closed with my aunt and uncle both chain smoking in the front. It made me feel sick and I’ve never been able to stand the smell of cigarettes since.


  5. I kind of smoked for my whole life starting since I was 13 but I never seemed to like it as much as everyone else. I’d be good with 1 or 2 a day. For others, they describe the first handful of cigarettes a day like it was heaven. Most of the time I would smoke because I was bored or like you mentioned for the social aspect of it.


  6. Totally bookmarking this for the *day-forthcoming* when I WILL try and quit again.


  7. I smoked from the time I was 17 until I was 49. I hated it, but it owned me. I could not, literally, walk across the yard unless I had my hand wrapped around a pack. Then I came down with walking pneumonia and didnt even WANT one. Slept for two weeks at the kitchen table, head on a pillow since I couldnt lie down.
    I played games with it. If I can go one whole day without smoking (red magnet on the fridge)–then it was one whole week (one blue magnet per day) then 32 days (one for every year I’d smoked), green magnets. I never told anyone, never discussed it. Long about the next summer my very observant and careful husband said, “did you give up smoking?” and I said yes, and he said, good. We didnt discuss it for a year or more, when he gave it up .

    That was 21 years ago, and even now if I hit an unguarded space, i want one so badly…A year ago i saw a very quick ad pop up before a game I was playing would load, and it said, “something for you to do to keep you from lighting up…” oh my god. If there had been a cigarette within reach, after 20 years, I would have eaten the damn thing.

    I call that addiction. One thing I do, is go after people online who say, apropos of nothing, “be right back, gotta go have a smoke”. We do not need to know, hon.


  8. Nice post Marilyn! The first time I quit was in 1987. That lasted for 14 years. Then I got divorced. And started again. I’m on my second round of quitting for the last 3 years. Smoking is a double whammy, it’s both incredibly addictive physiologically and highly pleasant socially. Good on you!


  9. I’m proud of your achievement, smoking destroys so many things…Have a wonderful 2016.


  10. That’s a “didn’t” want to have anything to do with it.


  11. Do you remember when they used to put a tray of cigarettes on the coffee table for the guests? I grew up when literally everyone smoked. I could see how urgent it was when they ran out. They had to go and get another pack. I decided then that I did want to have anything to do with it. So glad I didn’t start.


  12. This post speaks volumes to me personally. I am a recovering alcoholic. I had my last drink September 19,1978. It was easier to stop drinking that to stop smoking. I was a 3 pack a day smoker of Marlboro lights. I took up the bad habit in the military to lose weight. I was in a special program in the Air Force when I enlisted that let them get the excess weight I carried off any way they could. I was stationed in San Antonio, TX in July and lost 75 pounds in two weeks. It’s not a typo, i said two weeks. I went from a 44 inch waist to a 36 inch waist in two weeks. During that extreme weight loss as we marched to the chow hall they pulled our squadron over and told us to ” light ’em if you’ve got ’em”! They told us cigarettes were appetite suppressants and would help us lose weight. I was quickly hooked. I stopped “cold turkey” years later because of congestive heart failure. My blood pressure was 255/150 when they admitted me to the trauma center at my local hospital. I’ve never smoked another cigarette since. That was Jan 04, 2004.


  13. I went the same way. When I was 16 years old smoking was in, it was grown up and lung diseases just did not exist. I gave it up a couple of times but always returned. Actually my first blog on this subject told of my addiction. I eventually gave it up, at the age of 50, and I don’t even think of a cigarette today. I do not miss it and in any case i prefer to spend my money on computers. It was interesting to read what the heroin addict said, so much wisdom in his words. Mr.Swiss still smokes, but that is his problem. He goes outside to smoke and the apartment is smoke free.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My clothing and home smell better as do I without cigarettes. Sometimes, I do miss it. Not in a physical way, but for the break that got me outside to see the stars 🙂 But it sure does save a LOT of money! Hard to believe I spent that much money on smoking!!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I can relate. I had a boss who loved “the sauce”. He reeked of it when he arrived in the newsroom. I cut him some slack because of my own interest in those beverages. The inevitable clash occurred when that Boss invaded one of my places of interest. Some things are sacred. That’s the way it was, give or take a lie or two.


  14. I remember this post. “Once an addict always an addict,” and I suppose that is true. As for me, I can’t even remember how it felt when I smoked. I watch my husband smoke and wonder, “Was that me?” Now in retrospect I think that I didn’t quit smoking, I just had outgrown it…if that makes any sense.
    Great post written for a great blog LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Fabulous post! Very well said! Indeed, there are many habits associated with cigarettes and the social aspect is a difficult one.


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