I i have asthma, and there is some pretty serious respiratory disease, as you may have heard, and i am a smoker too. A quick inventory of my coat pockets: inhaler, face mask, Marlboro Gold. I never started smoking as a teenager when everyone seemed to think it was cool, but I started in my 30s as others might develop an interest in birding or CrossFit. Four or five a day, for most of a decade, and more on weekends. This piece is anonymous because my mother cannot know. I don’t have the words to express how incredibly stupid I feel about it all.
There’s a lot going on here, and it’s not all interesting for me and my therapist. You could imagine that a continuing and appalling international emergency that one study says it’s especially more dangerous for smokers would mean there were fewer idiots like me. But in fact, stress and boredom are more than a guarantee of serious health problems: Research published in August last year suggested that the number of young adults who smoke in England has increased by about one. quarter when first locking. There has been an increase in the number of people of all ages who have quit smoking in England during that same first period of foreclosure – but no signs of falling rates that you might reasonably expect. Again, nothing about this habit has ever been rational.
Personally, I don’t know exactly what kind of smoker I am, but I do know that I am neither laid back nor outgoing: I am very attached to something very unpopular. The persistence of the package in my pocket is not for lack of trying. It’s more for lack of to want. My figurative heart just isn’t there, even though my literal heart would probably have pretty strong opinions in the opposite direction. (Sadly, in the literal sense of the heart, only sensitive organs get a vote!) I think this habit that makes me smell foul and make me look desperate is … cool, a skillfully performed little ritual that makes me a more compelling figure to people at a party. Did you feel cool as a teenager, my therapist asks me, and it’s obvious to both of us that the question is rhetorical.
It does have a somber meaning, but it’s probably also a crutch and a way to ignore the obvious fact that I’m addicted. After all, I’ve barely been to parties in long enough, and other than the neighbor’s terminally ill cat, there’s no audience when I’m curled up in the back garden on a rainy Tuesday morning in take me from the ashes.
I started out, for reasons I don’t fully understand, as some sort of warped, bloody reinvention shortly after a breakup. I should have known from my permanent inability to leave half a packet of candy in a cupboard for the next day that it wouldn’t work; before long, I had slipped from one pack per month to one every few days.
I would have liked to have understood well then how an addiction to nicotine would turn out to be insidious, how the term “want to smoke” would turn out to be misleading and unnecessary, at least for me: it suggests a siren in your brain when you you deprive yourself of it, when the truth is something like that little boost you get when it occurs to you that you’d like a cup of tea and a cookie. I don’t often leave it long enough to be faced with a compulsion more powerful than that, but since it doesn’t seem particularly intense, I almost always give in to it. I think I have a constitutional weakness for treats.
I still don’t think I really, deeply want to quit or understand how urgently I need to do it. But I know I don’t want that dark internal monologue in my head anymore: an endless, boring chunter that creeps through my mind whenever I don’t think much about anything. It may be that the additional mental drift opportunities of the pandemic helped me achieve at least this contested breakthrough, because in 2021 I started Juul-ing. While previous attempts had failed spectacularly – the time I got lit while chewing Nicorette is a particularly low point – this time I spent over a week between cigarettes, at the cost of an umbilical attachment to a mysterious little obelisk whose long-lasting impacts remain unknown. I buy loose menthol pods and get nervous if the battery light is flashing red. I always come back to smoking at the end, but the spreads get a bit longer and are a bit easier to tolerate.
None of this is consoling. While vaping is useful and although I feel like I smoke less, it seems to me that I am hanging on to it as a harm reduction method, not as a step to quitting. I tell myself that once all that – I wave my hand to the universe – calmed down a bit, I’m really going to be okay with it.
The prospect of slowly killing myself is fixed like an abstraction. I feel like I would quit if I had a child, but that might just be another justification for putting it off. So here I am, the kind of person who vapes behind their hand in Zoom meetings and blows a small visible cloud out of the corner of their mouth like no one will notice because they are stepping out from the side.
I miss being the person I was before I smoked, when I had no idea how much of a luxury it was to never think about it, and I know that even though I do manage to give up nicotine completely, this victory will be clouded by an obscure sense of loss. I also can’t believe how less funny this piece is than I thought. But maybe two years after the start of a global pandemic, it counts for personal growth: the ability to cope with the absurdity of the harm you do to yourself as something bigger than a morbid joke.