Everyone loves a quitter
Cigarette /sıgə’rєt/ n. a pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool at the other.
The good thing about writing about smoking is that for once I don’t have to watch my words. Nothing I say could possibly offend smokers more than the government’s shock tactics and cigarette packets themselves.
Those of the self-poisoning persuasion are the one section of society you can tear to pieces with impunity. They’ve been told a million times they’re not wanted. I imagine they’re so stressed out by the merciless attack that they need a cigarette.
A colleague of mine has finally tired of being told she is a modern-day pariah and is attempting to extinguish her addiction. She has to sneak past my desk to go outside and light up, so I’ve been conscripted to roll my chair back over her toes, boot her in the shins and give her an earful should she head for a lungful.
It appears she has misinterpreted the term “health kick”. Crippling yourself is not among the recommended methods of giving up smoking, but the threat of it appears to be helping my colleague, who has been smoking 15 a day for 20 years and, like many human chimneys, is tired of getting the flu, of not tasting her food, of yellow teeth, shortness of breath, prematurely-aged skin…
She’s not alone. While smoking remains the largest single cause of death in Australia, according to OxyGen the period from 1980 to 2007 saw the number of adult smokers in Australia fall from 35 to 19 per cent. And the number of current smokers aged 12 to 17 years has also decreased from 19 per cent in 1999 to 7.3 per cent in 2008.
From Yul Brunner’s stark and simple warning – “Whatever you do, just don’t smoke” – to the more graphic image of a father-of-two coughing his lungs into a hanky and realising he will miss his children’s adolescence, a generation of anti-smoking commercials has rammed home a message which most of us knew but many of us ignored.
And if hooks piercing tongues weren’t traumatic enough to do the trick, cigarette packaging has changed from eye-catching colours to grotesque images of human organs – inoperative and inoperable. Look over your newsagent’s shoulder and you’d swear Jack the Ripper was doing the marketing at Philip Morris.
I started smoking at university, probably because I studied film noir, that post-war cinematic genre showcasing the anxiety, suspicion and pessimism of the 1940s, all of which were (and arguably are) calmed by a good smoke.
It was a classic case of copycat cravings. Even the hatstands were smoking in The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. It makes the feats of the genre’s leading directors – Billy Wilder, Orson Wells, Alfred Hitchcock – more laudable because at times it must have been difficult to see the actors.
Lights, camera, ash tray!
Although I was more a social smoker than a chronic one, moving to Europe didn’t help my amateur addiction. A decade ago, no smoking signs in Europe were decorations rather than decrees. At Rome airport I saw a policeman smoking directly beneath a no smoking sign. I asked if I could take his photo and he replied, ignorant to irony, that it was forbidden to take photos in the airport. I smoked more heavily when I was travelling, probably out of some nostalgic desire to follow in the Beat Generation footsteps of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. You might say I used to smoke a pipedream.
Qantas helped me quit. Boarding a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, I knew I couldn’t smoke for 12 hours, so when I arrived in Australia I pretended I’d been refused entry on account of the fact I was a smoker (for how much longer will such a concept be absurd?) and was forced – in handcuffs so I couldn’t smoke! – to board another flight back to The States. Then another, and another, back and forth across the Pacific until those fictional smoke alarms in those fictional toilets could have their fictional batteries removed because I was no longer a real threat to setting them off. It’s just a shame I couldn’t claim the frequent flyer points.
Serious smokers will be scoffing (and perhaps coughing) at my achievement, claiming I wasn’t a real smoker in the first place. So what is a real smoker?
A yellow-fingered friend of mine once suggested that a real smoker shouldn’t be judged on how many cigarettes they smoke a day or the nicotine content of those cigarettes but on whether they smoke in bed or before breakfast. If you’re willing to set your sheets on fire or change the Lord’s Prayer to ‘give us this day our daily Dunhill’ then you’re officially hooked.
According to this litmus test, my colleague is, or rather was, a real smoker. In her efforts to bin the bad habit once and for all she had decided to go cold turkey, which is first cab off the rank in the how to quit list, followed by the reduction of the number of cigarettes you smoke.
Anyone trying this method should watch Irish comedian Dave Allen (a man who claims to have been so addicted he even smoked between smokes) giving it a go.
Nicotine patches are also proving popular, perhaps because they give you two chances to win. If they fail to do what it says on the packet, you can put one over each eye so that you can’t find your cigarettes.
The most unusual method I’ve heard – other than pretending you’re handcuffed in an aeroplane or getting a workmate to kick your shins – is to eat your cigarettes rather than smoke them. The only problem here is that most smokers feel like a cigarette after a meal.
But the best meal is still cold turkey. At least my colleague thinks so. Good job she’s still got plenty left over in the fridge after Christmas.
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