Our own Darden Reinowski documents the highs and lows of quitting cold turkey
By Darden Reinowski
My name is Darden, and I am a smoker. This is the week I quit. With the proposed ban on smoking in New York City, I thought the timing was right. I decided to write down my experiences in a diary of sorts so that I would not be tempted to smoke, and so I could get a better idea of my cravings and my thoughts on smoking.
As far as I'm concerned, to each his own. If someone wants to smoke, that is his business. Likewise, if a bar wants to let its customers smoke, so be it. I think if certain bars want to ban smoking from their establishment to save people from second-hand smoke, this is a good thing. And for those bars that want to indulge the smokers, that's fine too. But to impose laws on smoking, it will only anger the abundant number of smokers in this city.
In the past week, I have asked people wherever I go why they smoke. Answers were usually stress, addiction, their friends or coworkers smoke, boredom, and my favorite: "I went to Europe-- everyone smokes there." But every person to whom I spoke wanted to quit. Many, like me, discovered how many months or years had gone by since they started, and gave a look of surprise.
But what about those who quit successfully, what was their motivation for quitting? " Money." "Health." "Because this girl I like won't kiss me since my breath is stinky." Quite a few people also mentioned family members or friends who had cancer due to smoking. They said whenever they wanted a cigarette, they would think of that person as a reason for quitting. According to The Guardian, 84 percent of deaths from lung cancer are caused by smoking.
With the cost of cigarettes rising, money is the number one deterrent for smoking. A pack of cigarettes in New York City averages $7.50. Twenty-two billion packs were sold in the United States. in 1999, according to a study from the Center for Disease Control. That's sure to have gone down since the increase in taxes. Americans spend about $50 billion a year on medical care for smoking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By contrast, the average cost per smoker for cessation treatment is $165.61. Yes, it is time to quit. Perhaps this ban will actually start a new health trend.
Mark Twain once said, "Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." This diary is an experiment in trying to quit for good:
Sunday, November 4, 2002
Day 1: I am so hungover the thought of a cigarette makes me want to throw up. Today, therefore, is the best day to quit. It has been 6 years since I seriously started smoking. I have been smoking since I was thirteen, when my brother gave me my first cigarette and laughed at me when I choked and gagged on it. Back then smoking was a way to rebel. I didn't really start smoking though until I was 16 and went to Germany. Europeans are notorious smokers.
In high school I smoked because I knew my parents would hate it, but I also smoked because my friends lit up. They wouldn't have cared if I didn't, but it's hard to resist what everyone else is doing. Now, I find that this is the reason why I have problems quitting. Smoking evokes those primitive clan urges. Go with the group to survive. But smoking is certainly not for survival. My hoarse throat is enough to convince me of this.
Day 2: I made it successfully through the day, but as the sky turned a lovely shade of indigo my craving took over. Nighttime is the most difficult time to not smoke. Whether having a drink with a friend at dinner or going to a bar, the cigarette craving becomes terrible to resist. It's like when you're on a diet. You go out to eat and you order a salad, but you are constantly eyeing your friend's burger and fries. So, you give in and have that chocolate cake for dessert. Cheating with cigarettes is much like cheating on a diet. You have a drink, you want a cigarette.
Day 3: Today I need support. All day I have been stuck walking behind someone who is having a cigarette with the smoke wafting behind them into my face. Torture. I go to talk to Michele Lauberblat at the NYU Health Center about the Smoking Cessation Program offered by the university. She speaks very fast explaining the ins and outs of quitting. I tell her how I've been trying to quit cold turkey. "That's hard," she says, "really hard," as if she herself has tried to quit before. She says it's important to find the specific barriers and triggers a smoker has to find the right method of quitting. Then she tells me about the different choices. There's the gum, the patch, and the pill called Zyban. She says I can make an appointment with the nurse to find out which one is right for me. I tell her thank you, and she gives me an empathetic look. "It's hard you know," she says. "It's a process, and it's something you need support for." My thoughts exactly. She says she's there if I need to talk or need more help.
Later I go out to dinner with my friend John who used to be a social smoker like me. But, then like many in NYC who succumb to the stresses. He began chain smoking. He wasn't smoking at dinner, though, thankfully. He is my worst influence (and the one I went out with last weekend when I got too drunk and had too many cigarettes). I ask him about his habit. He started smoking daily when he began working at Vogue. Finally the stress was too much for him. So, he quit his job this week. He quit smoking too.
According to this, it's the stress that does it. Actually, I haven't bought a pack since mid-term week (ok, so it was last week). But what about social smoking?
Day 4: Surfing on the net, I find out lots about the physical aspects about smoking, but nothing concrete about the psychology. Everyone has individual reasons for why they smoke, but I think a lot of it is the same. It's like you're conditioned, like Pavlov's dog, the bell rings and you salivate-only not for food, but a smoke. Perhaps this is because smoking, like eating involves the sense of smell.
Many anti-smoking organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, urge smokers to quit, among other reasons, not to smell bad. I am often attracted to the scent of smoke, though, as were many smokers with whom I spoke. Scent is a powerful memory holder. For me I remember my grandfather, who smoked a pack a day, and how his house smelled of old cigarettes and Oreos.
Day 5: My first test, going out drinking. I am treating my friend, Dhiraj, to drinks tonight at a place called Spread. I didn't pick the place, but hopefully it will be slow tonight and not many people will be smoking.
Like all bad habits, smoking has a psychological reason behind it. Some people bite their nails because they are stressed and cannot find a way to deal with their anxiety. Smoking is the same. It is an outlet, albeit a masochistic one considering it causes cancer (and not just a mangled manicure like with those nail biters).
At Spread, though, I feel that not smoking is what's masochistic since everyone around me seems to be smoking. I want a cigarette! A support system is vital to quitting. Dhiraj doesn't smoke. I talk to him above the blaring hip-hop music about my diary. He tries to tempt me with a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights left on the bar. I scowl at him and think how I wouldn't smoke those gross cigarettes anyway-- they are as fake as the 30-year-olds in here trying to be 19. But he is proud that I have quit. I feel triumphant walking out of the bar having had three drinks and no cigarette.
Day 6: I e-mailed my brother, Brian, about trying to quit. Cold turkey is hard. He's in France right now, which is perhaps the smoking capital of the world. He smokes half a pack to a pack a day, and smokes the most of everyone I know. He says the gum sucks and he uses the patch when he tries to quit. It seems like every time he tries to quit some really stressful event happens and he ends up smoking more than he did before. He quotes Oscar Wilde in his reply message: "I can resist everything except temptation." So true!
Day 7: I flew into Austin, TX yesterday to see my best friend, Marge, a self-proclaimed chain smoker. When I told her about my diary, she said she had quit too. We split a bottle of wine tonight. She had a pack of unfinished cigarettes in the kitchen. Well, one thing led to another. We broke down, each having a cigarette. Alcohol, especially wine, always makes me want to smoke. Back to my scent theory. When one of the triggers such as drinking (in this case, wine) activates our taste and smell, our scent memory craves the cigarette. I wonder if we didn't have our sense of smell, would we want to smoke.
Later when we went out drinking, I had to remind myself that messing up and having a smoke doesn't mean all is lost and I should go back to smoking. As a quitter, you can't make excuses that a slip qualifies defeat and thus more smoking. You must accept your cheating as something that will likely happen in the first couple of weeks, but not give in to every craving.
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