My Road to Smoking Smarter
When I was a little girl I remember waking up after my birthday parties and having a really, really sore throat. I asked my mom about it once when I got old enough to wonder. I think I was maybe nine or 10. She said it was because of all the cigarette smoke. My whole family came to birthday parties and most of my aunts and uncles, and my grandma and grandpa, smoked.
My grandpa smoked the most of anyone in my family. He was a big, warm-hearted, bombastic guy who was always using his cigar to light and off M-80s on the fourth of July and taking my sister and me out fishing on our pond. He told tall tales about how there was a giant white bass in the lake and he’d give a Barbie doll to me if I caught it. I was always trying to get my grandpa’s approval and to make him laugh. One time, during a birthday party, I tiptoed up to the end table and blew on the full ashtray where his cigarette was sitting. Ashes blew all over the place and he got really mad at me. I didn’t understand why.
A few months later, he got really sick. I was 10 years old and my parents explained he had lung cancer. I didn’t understand what that meant. A few weeks after he got sick, we went trick-or-treating and visited him in the hospital afterwards. I don’t remember it too well, but I remember that my big, loud grandpa was sitting there in a hospital bed with his shirt off and that he had lost a lot of weight. There were tubes connected to him and the room smelled a lot like old saliva. I told him I would dress up like the Ultimate Warrior for him next Halloween. He died the next day. I started crying when I told my class about it that week. My teacher said, “This too shall pass.” I didn’t understand what that meant either.
In school, I learned how bad cigarettes were and that they were the reason my grandpa died at 63. Still, when I turned 18, I tried my first cigarette. I got it from one of my cousins (who also switched to vaping). It gave me a really bad headache, and when I got home, I laid on the couch and the whole room felt like it was spinning and I was so sick to my stomach. But I could still taste the tobacco in my mouth and I kind of liked the way it tasted. I bought my first pack not long after that.
I remember smoking in my car when I went to meet my mom at the school she worked at, and I joked that I shouldn’t be smoking because that’s how grandpa had died. I had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and I was scared and in denial, but smoking made me feel powerful. I’d smoke outside on my break from work and strangers would say, “you know that’s going to kill you, right?” I’d say, “I have diabetes and that’s going to kill me anyway, so at least I get to decide how I die.”
Smoking made me feel elegant. I bought a cigarette holder and smoked menthol 100s. I said it wasn’t peer pressure because it was my decision, but after a while it wasn’t really a choice. I was extremely self-conscious about my weight, and I figured I’d gain weight if I quit, so I didn’t try. Sure, people died from smoking, but I was only 19 by this time. I had plenty of time to quit.
By the time I turned 21, I had already been married once--to a smoker. We would buy Marlboro reds by the carton and smoke through them in less than a week. When I left my ex-husband, I started smoking more and more from all the stress. I would sit outside at my parents house and smoke cigarettes and write poetry that started, “I don’t want to die...just yet/I need to smoke this cigarette.” I started drinking whiskey straight from the handle and I chainsmoked. Then, I got a boyfriend who took my cigarettes from me and begged me to quit. So, I did. Until we split up a few years later. By the time I turned 29, I was smoking a pack a day again.
Later, I moved to Chicago to become an actor and improviser, but I was self-conscious about my smile. After years of smoking they were visibly yellow in pictures. I stopped showing my teeth when I smiled. But I still kept on smoking, even though cigarettes were now costing me more than $12 a pack.
I eventually moved in with a roommate that didn’t smoke, so I figured that would help me quit smoking. Nope. It got her started smoking. I was lonely because it was the first time in my adult life that I didn’t have a serious boyfriend, so I would walk to the corner bar and drink during the wintertime. They eventually offered me a night job, so I spent most of my time there and the bar became like a second home. I stayed til 2 or 3 almost every night until I was very, very drunk and I had smoked through a pack of cigarettes. When I ran out, I would look on the sidewalk in Chicago for cigarette butts to pick up and smoke. Or, I’d go to 7-11 and buy smokes and nachos. Then I would ash in the leftover nachos and pass out with cigarettes and nacho cheese all over myself. Gross, right? I remember talking to my mom on the phone one morning on the way to work and I got winded when I walked up the subway steps And then I lit a cigarette.I was in an endless cycle of depression and self-pity. When I was at my worst, I weighed 185 pounds and smoked a pack and a half a day. So much for cigarettes helping me lose weight.
I’d buy a bottle of wine or vodka and a pack of cigarettes and then sit alone in my room and drink the wine and smoke the cigarettes. Then, I’d go to work hung over and eat a half-pound cheeseburger and fries for lunch because I couldn’t smoke at work.
I learned it was cheaper to roll my own cigarettes, so I learned how to roll. Driving down the highway, rolling cigarettes from whatever leftover flake tobacco I found on the floor of my car.
I smoked like never before. I once tried an e-cigarette I got for free from some company that came to the bar, but it tasted like hard plastic. I wanted to taste a damn cigarette. One of my friends had a box mod and I tried it, but I couldn’t understand how to time the button-pressing with the inhaling. And it didn’t taste or feel like a cigarette. So, I finally decided I didn’t really want to quit.
I found out my high school English teacher and long-time mentor had lung cancer. Every time I talked to her, she asked me if I quit. I told her I had to have at least one vice.
After all, I was only 34 and I still had time to quit. She then told me that she was 36 when she quit smoking.
A few months ago, I applied for a job to do social media at a vape shop and I kind of laughed it off. I imagined this vape shop where everyone had really big beards and blew giant smoke clouds from those boxes that looked like walkie-talkies.
When I walked into Vapor4Life, I was surprised to see that you could vape inside. The first thing the owner, Steve Milin, did was talk to me about smoking. He told me that I smelled like cigarettes. I didn’t even think I smelled like cigarettes because my sense of smell was shot. He told me he couldn’t have me in there smelling like cigarettes because he hated the smell now. He asked me how long I had been smoking. It was the first time in my life I ever realized how long I had smoked and it gave me the chills, “I’ve been smoking for...wow...16 years.”
We talked for two hours, maybe more and we barely talked about my resume. I told him the story I just told you. I told him that my boyfriend smoked about three packs or more a day. He told me he used to smoke up to five packs a day for 40 years and that he tried everything to quit--patches, pills, hypnosis. He explained that he was eventually able to smoke smarter after trying e-cigs. Then, he explained that he made it his mission to help other people learn to smoke smarter and that he had designed his own e-cigarette after trying everything that was out there. I got hopeful that my boyfriend and I finally had a chance to find a better way to smoke.
Steve handed me one of his disposable e-cigarettes and I commented that it was much softer than the hard plastic e-cigs I had tried before. It gave me that tobacco taste that I fell in love with 16 years ago. And it made me cough. Steve said that whether or not I got the job, he wanted to help me smoke smarter. He said he used to be online all night long talking to smokers and helping them find a better way.
I didn’t smoke a cigarette the whole hour-long car ride home.
I took some home and smoked them in between cigarettes, or when I didn’t have a cigarette handy. I was eventually starting to smoke less and less and reach for the e-cigarette in the morning. I finally started to think about the possibility of switching, but I knew I had a long way to go and a lot more to learn.
I later learned that that was the first step on my road to smoking smarter. I eventually stopped smoking tobacco cigarettes altogether after I tried the Vapor Zeus, but I still keep disposables in my car for when I’m pissed off in traffic or arguing with my boyfriend on the phone. I can’t stand the taste, or the smell. I can’t stand to look at an ashtray because it makes me sick. I never thought I would find a way to enjoy smoking that was actually less harmful than cigarettes. Now, I’ve made it my mission to help other people the way Steve helped me.
I’ll post again soon to tell you more about my journey. Feel free to post yours in the comments. If you’re a smoker, or you know someone who smokes, reach out to me at [email protected]. I’m here to help you find a way to smoke smarter.