6 Annoying Realities Of Being An Ex-Smoker
Anti-smoking ads present a pretty simple situation: Smoking is bad because you get addicted to the nicotine and the tar turns your lungs into a swampy, black death-marsh. There's nothing enjoyable about smoking, and unless you manage to get nicotine's evil claws out of your brain, you will die.
Not quite. While it's true that nicotine is a motherfucker, it's not the only reason people continue to smoke. There are all kinds of other things that keep you puffing away whether or not you feel those chemical cravings. Things like ...
The Excuse To Take A Break From A Social Situation
This anti-smoking ad depicts cigarettes as a bully that forces you away from the stuff you enjoy doing so you can go outside and smoke him. You know -- just like real bullies.
The addiction metaphor is pretty clear, and it shows smoking addiction as an inconvenient burden. Which it is! Sometimes! Sometimes it's not.
For every time you feel like a cigarette is dragging you away, there will be another time that they swooped in and saved you like a carcinogenic guardian angel. For example, parties: While some people really enjoy parties and seem to gain energy from the constant stimulation, other people (like me) can become exhausted and need to find an excuse to go away and find some quiet and just breathe some air that hasn't already been in someone else's mouth. And when that time comes along, cigarettes are pretty much the only socially acceptable option.
No, really -- it's the only thing you're allowed to do, because all the other potential excuses are either pathetic or hints that you might be a serial killer. "I'm going to get some air" makes it sound like you've drunk too much and are going to puke in the bushes. Hiding in the bathroom is weird. You can pretend to take a phone call, I suppose, but that would be literally the most shameful thing anyone has ever done. I think this is why the creepy loner stereotype always includes a cigarette: the reason smoking seemed attractive to them in the first place is because it gave them a chance to step outside and recharge before their brain turned to oatmeal.
The Excuse To Take A Break From Work
Here's another anti-smoking ad that takes a similar approach as the "bully" one, but this time in a work environment. Sir Nigel St. Britishthorpe is just trying to get some goddamn work done, when out of nowhere a magic fish hook snares his cheek and drags his protesting body through the office, past his uncaring co-workers, and hurls him outside, where he promptly lights up. "The average smoker needs over 5,000 cigarettes a year," an ominous voiceover informs us. You can watch it here, and you should because it'll help you keep track of what I'm talking about for the rest of this entry.
Meanwhile, I'm shocked that we were supposed to feel bad for this guy.
Aside from the fish-hook in his face, this is a video about a guy who finally got a chance to relax. Work is clearly being a pain in the ass right now, and his crippling addiction is how he got to take a break. This isn't just a nice thing for this one dude; it's literally how smoking became popular in the first place. "Smoking breaks" used to be a kind of currency in the U.S. military, where good behavior was rewarded with more time off to fellate the papery penis of death.
Much like in my last entry, here cigarettes are the only acceptable way to stop working for a minute. What other excuse is there to step away from your desk for a while? "I gotta poop" is fine once or maybe twice, but everyone knows that you're either masturbating or playing Tetris in there. And neither of those things are cool at all. Cigarettes, on the other hand, are cool. Which leads me to my next point.
Here's another anti-smoking ad that, instead of going for surrealism, dives right into 1980s John Carpenter territory.
In the ad, cigarettes are a crab-like space demon that attacks a class full of kids and their teacher before scuttling back inside its pack to hide or lurk or whatever. Then it says, "If cigarettes looked as dangerous as they are, you'd run." Sure, that might very well be true, but it completely misses the point, because cigarettes don't look as dangerous as they are. They look cool.
Every time you tell someone that smoking isn't cool, you make smoking cooler. Because expressing any opinion about whether or not smoking is cool means you're not cool. Which is why I'm not cool either. At least, not since I quit smoking.
While it's true that movie stars smoking cigarettes probably helped keep smoking cool, it's also true that we started giving movie stars cigarettes to smoke because they're inherently cool. Why? First of all, there's the death thing: Embracing your own mortality and not caring that what you're doing is dangerous and deadly is inherently cool. It's the number one thing we embrace in our aspirational heroes.
I'm hard-pressed to tell you what the coolest part of this picture is.
So, yeah. If cigarettes were the headcrabs from Half-Life, we'd run away, and this would be a completely different type of problem, because nobody ever tried to smoke the headcrabs from Half-Life. If cigarettes were ISIS, then they'd be a hot geopolitical topic. If cigarettes were The Postal Service, they'd be the short-lived electronic side-project of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard that despite releasing only one album still managed to be superior to his original band in every way.
But they aren't any of those things. They're cigarettes, and they're cool. And without them, I will always be less cool, and I will always be pining for the days when I looked really cool because I smoked. And I will always know that, the older I get, the cooler I will look if I start smoking again, because an old guy with a cigarette?
That's cool. That's next-level cool. That's Clint Motherfucking Eastwood cool.
That's why, even after we made it illegal to advertise cigarettes in this country, young people kept getting addicted. This is a product that doesn't need advertisement, because a big chunk of our culture is built around encouraging awkward or shy or standoffish people to try this out this stupid habit. And it gets worse, because once you start smoking regularly, you fall in love with...
If you're a real charmer, a charismatic cat who always has something clever to say and feels comfortable in every situation, then this part of cigarette addiction probably doesn't matter for you. But if you're kind of an awkward goof who has trouble making small talk and doesn't have much to say about politics or sports, then these are the claws that cigarettes will sink into you. Remember earlier where I was talking about being at a party and stepping outside to have a cigarette? In most situations, you're not only escaping a din of pheromones and screamed flirtations, you're entering into a special club. A safe space of smokers that's sorta like Easy Mode for partying.
If you're the kind of person who's uncomfortable in a big group, then congratulations, because as long as you have a wrapped-up wad of burning death-lettuce in your lips there are no wrong answers/ You wanna chat outside when you smoke? You can chat outside when you smoke. You wanna stay quiet? That's cool too. Awkward silences are expected because, brother, you gotta smoke that death-lettuce, and ain't nobody talkin' while that happens.
I'm convinced this is why all of my college friends smoked (exactly half of us have quit since graduation). We'd go to a party, because parties sounded cool, then we'd get there and realize that everyone was drunk and it smelled like pee and we would all decide to have a cigarette, so then we'd go outside and talk about movies and, probably, politics. I'm sure we were saying incredibly stupid things about politics. That's what college is about, after all.
And that might be the secret: There is a certain type of person who hates parties but doesn't want to be the kind of weirdo who never goes to parties. So, begrudgingly, they attend these awful gatherings. And after a few weeks of finding themselves in the situation I just described night after motherfucking night, all of the sudden bam: They're smoked as a joke.
Having A Prop
I dunno about you, but I'm not an intimidating physical presence. I'm sort of a scrawny fuck-maggot, if I could borrow the language my grandfather used to use. I stumble into situations like a drunk Wile E. Coyote leaving an Acme Showcase. I never know what to do with my hands -- not even now, and I'm currently typing words with them.
This sounds small, but it's the most likely thing to make me want to start smoking again out of fucking nowhere. Just consider how much more fun it is to talk to people when there's something in your hand. How many beers have you picked up at parties just because it felt weird to be standing there with nothing in your hands? I'm betting it's lots. Because if you don't have a beer in your hand, people are going to start asking inconvenient questions, like, "Why doesn't that guy have a beer in his hand?" And, "Do you think he has some kind of drinking problem?"
You can't have people thinking that. You gotta drink a beer to prove that you don't have a problem. I'd say 17 out of 18 beers I drink are to show everyone around me that I don't have a problem.
This is the one that gets me the most. When you quit smoking, you're not just taking cigarettes off the list of things you do; you're adding them to the list of things you won't let yourself enjoy. And that list can be a motherfucker.
Say you get a craving for a big sloppy cheesesteak from the sandwich shop down the street, but you make yourself a small meal instead, because you're trying to save money and you're pretty sure the delicious steak at that shop is horse meat. That costs something inside your soul. Then you spend your evening going for a run instead of playing video games -- it's good for you, but the energy it took to say to yourself, "No video games tonight, me!" had to come from somewhere. It came right out of your soul. Then on your run you went by someone who happened to be smoking and, goddammit, time to cash another check filled out with your goddamn soul.
Of course, self-control increases with practice. Like anything, the more you try at it, the better you get. Regardless of what Yoda says, "try" totally exists, and it counts for a lot. But it also costs you. Every time you smell a cigarette, or see someone smoking one, or are just reminded that they exist, you'll want one. And telling yourself no night after night for years is exhausting. Especially since you know that at any point you can say, "Hey, I deserve a cigarette. I already went to the gym, and scooped my cat's poop right when she pooped it, and worked a 90-hour week. I deserve to say yes to myself. I can't do it with this, that, or the other thing, so I'm going to do it with a goddamn cigarette."
And you do, and it's great. The best cigarettes you'll ever have are the first ones in a long time. It always feels like you're treating yourself to something really special. And it seems worth it right up until the moment you choke to death on the swollen bloody flesh of your own rotten lungs.
JF Sargent is an editor and columnist for Cracked. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook, but under no circumstances should you attempt to do both.
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