Thursday, May 14, 2009

Let's Talk About Smoking

In the state of Virginia, a new law banning smoking in public places will go into place some time in December. Without getting into the details, and I rarely get into details on “issues”, it sounds as if over the next several months, restaurants and bars will have a choice to make about how they will address the new smoking ban. I, for one, am looking forward to being able to go out without having to breathe in someone else’s smoke in the process. Now don’t get me wrong here - I am not an anti-smoking-dangers-of-second-hand-smoke crusader – quite the opposite.

I love smoking. I started smoking some time around when I was sixteen. I have quit smoking five or six different times. I have not smoked in nine years. I wouldn’t mind lighting up right now, if it weren’t a supremely stupid move to make. So, why am I looking forward to the smoking ban? Maybe so that I can be spared the envy of watching others enjoy and inhale; maybe so that I can observe others doing things I did for years, such as standing outside in all manner of weather to get their fix of choice; maybe so I can go to the open mic night at the local bar, and be able to sing without feeling like my throat has been scrubbed with Comet – maybe all of the above.

I love smoking because it’s a little bit naughty. Having been raised by a father with a powerful personality and controlling manner, I was well trained to be a “good girl” and try to earn the elusive carrot of paternal approval. I won’t go one step further into that discussion, except to say that this dynamic left me with a never-ending desire to rebel, and be just a little bit naughty. I like to wear black because it makes people wonder, I like men who are less than clean-cut and slightly dangerous, and I like cigarettes because they are a little bit naughty. I have never had any interest in alcohol or anything that might be illegal, but I do likes me some smokes, and “good girls” are not supposed to smoke.

So, let’s talk pros and cons of smoking. The contrary side of the issue goes without saying. For more than the first half of the 20th century, many adults were enticed into smoking by ads claiming the health benefits of tobacco use. My grandmother never went without her after-dinner cigarette, as a way of stimulating the process of digestion and elimination. (Let me just say, snitching a cigarette from her stale stash was an unsavory experience in more ways than one.) But theses days, anyone middle-aged or younger knows that smoking is destructive. Yes, it’s a choice, but nothing short of a reckless and destructive choice for you and all your loved ones. We know that. ‘Nuff said.

Then, there are the benefits of smoking. Aside from the personal benefits noted above, the biggest pro I can recall from my days of lighting up is having a quiet moment on my own to step outside, breathe deeply, and take a break. Oh, how I miss those quiet moments! Without “the pause that refreshes” (ad slogan for Coca-Cola circa 1929, thank you Google), I can get so consumed by my daily activities, that I barely take a moment for a focused breath in an entire day. Now, how many of us could say the same? So, there is something to be said for taking a breather, and lucky for us, we can do that without taking a smoke.

On any normal day where I live, as I drive out to go to some kind of work thing or do errands, it is likely that I will see a particular woman out in front of an older office building down the street from my house. She is out at all times of the day, in all seasons, smartly dressed, coffee mug in one hand, and cigarette in another. My husband has seen her many times as well, and made note, since she is beautiful, tall, long auburn hair, exuding an air of relaxed confidence. I don’t know her, but I could see us being friends, if I could get past being envious of her ever-present smoldering cigarette. I hope that she knows about the dangers of skin cancer, because it looks like she’s been tanning. I wonder if she knows that smoking will give her lots of wrinkles. Most of all, I’m curious – who does she work for? And do they know how much time she spends outside smoking? Must be a nice job.

Quitting smoking is bitch - plain and simple. Nicotine is a most pernicious beast, and does not want to let go, once it has found a likely host. The last time I quit, and it will remain the last time, I managed to do it by replicating the conditions mentioned above. So, I would step outside, (away from the daily grind, and away from my usual smoking place), take deep breaths, stretch, take along a toy of some kind to give my idle hands something to play with, and honor myself with a few quiet moments. Slowly but surely, with a few stops and starts, and some nicotine gum, I was able to let go of my attachment to cigarettes for the last time. And in those times when I find myself yearning for a puff, it is no doubt also a time when I really need to give myself a break, take that “pause that refreshes”, and breathe with intention.

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