The Smoker I Was

I was a smoker. There’s nothing to be proud about it.

Looking back, it was just stupidity, a sign of weakness of my own psyche.

I was a smoking hater to begin with. I hated smoking and smokers. I looked down upon them and what they did. I was proud that I was not like them, was not part of the more popular ‘culture’ that was all around me: my father was a smoker, my uncles, my cousins, my friends. Smoking was considered normal — part of the daily rituals among men. It’s one of the things that makes a man a man. It’s a shared thing that indicates your membership in a group: the male group.

Smoking was communal, was shared. It’s one of the things that breaks the ice and sends signals of your friendliness, your committed association with somebody, and a statement that you belong to the same group as everybody else is. Offering a cigarette at the beginning of a conversation with a stranger sends the signal that you are friendly. Putting an (opened) pack of cigarettes on the table among friends is a sign of your comradeship with everyone around it. Lighting a cigarette and smoking it like everybody is forms the bond of camaraderie that could last a lifetime. In this regard, not doing what everybody else is doing can be considered as a sign of exclusivity, which — in a communal society like ours — can be considered rude. A man can be considered as not being a peer by the others simply by refusing to smoke when everybody else does.

Being a conscientious non-smoker among smokers was hard even when many people began to be aware of the adverse health effects of cigarette smoking. Tradition and peer pressure were just still too strong for a new and more rational attitude and habit to take over. But I was proud to stand where I was and was not the least bothered by what others thought about me.

I was young, intelligent, handsome, and healthy. What more could I need? The future was mine. I could not be bothered by people whose main concern was to be like others and how to be accepted by them. I could afford to be independent about the issue of cigarette smoking because I knew I stood on the solid ground of reason: I did not want to smoke because it was the healthiest choice one could reasonably have.

But all that ended one day, one night, in the first year of my college. I did not know what had gotten into me that day. It must have felt like an unbearable burden for me to suddenly turn to the one thing that I’d abhorred thus far. It was probably an escapism. Or, a rebellion — a show that I could also be bad. Perhaps it was just a weakness that had long been suppressed and found its way in a tiny crack that the opportunity had stricken.

What had really caused it, I’d rather not talk publicly. All I remember was that it felt good. I felt liberated — though, thinking about it now, it’s ironical that the beginning of such an enslavement should be called like that.

From that day on, I was hooked. On and off I tried to get off it. I made it quite a few times only to return to it willingly when ‘the implanted program’ was re-activated by some sort of external factors. All these times, the psychological factor was the hardest thing to overcome. The nicotine did not get me hooked, the associative program it had planted inside the brain did. Smoking somehow felt right — pleasurably addictive — in association with other things, such as deep-thinking or writing.

The longest period I was free of cigarettes was two years. The shortest was probably a week or two. In any case, these periods of stoppage were almost always triggered by physical health issues: I was either getting too weak from inhaling too much poison or downright getting sick from it. Stupidly, the urge to get back to cigarettes always managed to return whenever I felt healthy enough.

The long-term effects of cigarette-smoking, I must admit, are very bad. I am weaker than any persons of my age who are non-smokers. I look older too. I think it’s time I severed all associations with cigarettes, with smoking, forever. I hope it’s a resolution I can keep for the rest of my life this time.


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