Why Do You Smoke?
Why do people smoke? Because others were doing it and so they got started—and later couldn't stop. And that's about it.
Years ago a friend told me he started smoking because a girl on a date dared him to do it. A man who wishes he had never started said he began so he could prove to himself he was "a man." Since then he has decided that the real men never start. They are the ones who have the courage to say No to social pressure.
"I had a girl friend who always asked me for a smoke," one man said, "so I began carrying them around with me, so I would have one when she asked. Then I started for no particular reason. Now I can't stop."
"My parents did it, so I thought I should too," is the comment of another.
When asked whether he got a lift out of smoking, one older man replied, "No, the only effect I notice from smoking is that it makes me want more cigarettes. It is a vicious cycle, something like a drug. I get so I don't know when I light up another one."
Another comment: "I started smoking to be like other people, but it grew on me and now I can't seem to taper off."
Someone else says, "Oh, I smoke because it's good for my nerves." If someone stuck a gun in your back, or if a bull began chasing you across a field, you would be quite nervous. If you lit up a cigarette just then it would calm you down—for about one and a half minutes, to be exact. But after that, for about twenty minutes, you would be more nervous than a man who never smokes.
Actually, if you only took a smoke when a real crisis occurred—you would rarely take a smoke. The truth is that you do not smoke in order to meet the problems of life—but because the cigarette you finished smoking awhile back left you nervous for another one.
What has happened is that you have let yourself get into a habit. Your body has come to expect feeling this depressant, "soothing" effect every so often. And if the nicotine flow down your throat does not begin again soon enough, you become even more edgy and nervous till you get it.
It's not that you enjoy it. Who enjoys smoking rope and breathing in hot air? Yet it's not that you are really unhappy with life. The truth is that using nicotine is a way of life all its own. But before long, the tobacco user begins excusing the addiction by telling himself that he needs it to deal with the "nervous situations" he meets every day.
Wait a minute! Nervous crises every fifteen to thirty minutes? If you smoke a pack and a half a day, you smoke one cigarette every thirty two minutes, on the average (assuming you sleep eight hours at night). If you are a two pack smoker, it's one cigarette every twenty four minutes. That many crises do not arise every day! And you don't need that much assurance that you are now grownup or sophisticated. And you don't need that many "pleasures" to make life more bearable.
You smoke because you have become addicted to it. Face it. And you can only stop the addiction by stopping the smoking.
Well, then, why not just "taper off"—lessen the amount smoked each day—until you stop entirely? Some people do begin smoking less, and this is always good. But lessening your smoking will not result in stopping your smoking.
There is one other reason why people keep smoking: They do it in order to continue the habit of fingering the cigarette pack, lighting the match, and holding the cigarette.
The mechanical "carry around, light up, and smoke" procedure is a definite aspect in the problem. People begin feeling assured just because they have cigarettes with them.
Seeing what we are faced with helps us realize that smoking can be conquered. There is nothing as successful as success. And looking over the large numbers of individuals who have successfully stopped smoking, we find that quitting was the only way they were able to do it.
The addiction to the drug effects of nicotine and the habit of "having something in your hands"—both are conquered in the very same way and at the same time—by touching something else beside a pack of cigarettes and by tasting something else beside cigarettes.
Something was mentioned earlier about the "pleasure" of smoking. Veteran smokers have little to say about the "pleasures of smoking." They will honestly tell you that they do it not because of pleasure.
Burning tobacco is not much different than is other burning vegetation—wood, leaves, or weeds. Yet there is not much that is pleasant about sticking your head just above a burning pile of it—and breathing in the smoke. Yet, with tobacco, that is what many manage to do through much of the day.
Yet people will continue to keep their heads in the smoke. Roger Riis in his book, The Truth about Smoking, tells of a man with Buerger's Disease (a peculiar problem nearly always confined to smokers and which can be cured alone by quitting it), who was told by a physician at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans that he must discontinue smoking or it would be necessary to amputate his leg.
After a few minutes of painful silence during which he thought over the alternatives open to him, he finally spoke up and asked pathetically, "Above the knee or below?"
Do you smoke because you are comfortable with tobacco? As you smoke a cigarette, think to yourself: Does it really satisfy in the way that good food does when you're hungry? or a warm coat when you're cold? Of course it doesn't. Light it, breathe it in, taste what you're getting, put it out. Even as you do, you know that you'll soon want another and be lighting it. Not because you enjoy it. You simply want it.
Divorced from all the glamour and excitement of your first smoke years ago, just what is it worth? Nothing. How did that first smoke taste? Gaseous, strong, bitter. Has it really gotten any better as the years went by? Not a bit.
You have become a smoking habit, putting up day after day with the harsh taste, the hot dryness, the mouth bite, and the after letdown—and all for a reason you don't really know.
Life is full of habits: eating, dressing, thinking, working; and even attitudes are the result of habits. Habits make it easier to get things done. But habits are not our masters. We change the habit simply by consciously changing our actions. Do it differently for awhile and soon you have veered away from an old habit into a new one.
With worthwhile habits functioning automatically, that which you do proceeds more smoothly. The skilled musician who tries to think through the next portion of a difficult number is sure to make a mistake. But if he instead trusts to his habit patterns of fingering, timing, and following of musical notations, he will probably do just fine.
And so with the cigarette habit: taking it out of the pack, tapping it on the thumb nail, using a match or lighter, keeping it burning even on a windy day, puffing away. And then other habits form: taking a smoke upon arising, and then right after breakfast, and on and on through the day. It becomes your buddy that you carry around with you.
So in order to stop, you keep a careful watch over your habits and the new ones you are substituting for the old ones, not only what you do in place of lighting up, but what you do after those regular events of the day when you would normally light another one. In this way you safeguard that which you will not unthinkingly begin again.
"I have discontinued my use of cigarettes on more than one occasion. Twice I have gone as long as three months without smoking. But then I would go to a party and take a few drinks. After the party was over, I would find myself smoking again." That is how one man explained why he kept going back to something he didn't want to do. He did not remain on the alert.
There is embodied in the above story a powerful truth: The person who allows himself to indulge one bad habit weakens his will, so that it becomes easier to indulge another. There need not be a chemical relationship between hot spices, coffee, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, crack, cocaine, or heroin—Yet it is a known fact that building a desire for unnatural cravings, uppers, and downers, starts one on an uncertain road. It is a matter of personal mastery. Indulgence in one habit that is harmful to the body will condition the mind to accept other harmful habits.
The individual who refuses to be dominated by any habit, is the individual who can the most easily say No, when invited by people or circumstances to light up. In contrast, the person who becomes involved in tobacco may find it hard to maintain his independence of decision in the face of other habits that confront him.
The Keeley Institute for the Cure of Alcoholism requires all patients to abstain from tobacco. When asked why they have this requirement, they explain that the cure of alcoholism requires a restructuring of the personality. A strengthening of the will is needed in order to resist alcohol when friends and associates offer it to graduates of the Keeley Institute. The professionals at Keeley have concluded that the conquest of tobacco is equally important.
A man must be able to assert his will and say to tobacco as well as alcohol, No, I am the boss here; out with you both.
The cigarette smoker finally recognizes that he really has not enjoyed smoking; he was in a habit. He sees that it really is injuring his body, his family, and his work. He admits that it will lay him in an earlier grave if he does not quit. And, last but not least, he decides that he has to do it now and not later.
A typist cannot type without certain typing habits and nearby physical accessories, such as a typewriter or computer. A violinist cannot play without note reading, fingering and bowing habits, and also a violin and bow.
So with the smoker: It takes just the right combination of habits and circumstances so smoking can occur. To break with the nuisance of smoking: First the packs need to be thrown out, then the ex-smoker must keep his fingers busy doing something else. This may also mean avoiding some associates.
We're getting closer to Quit Day. Take courage in the fact that thousands of others have successfully quit the habit. Just as surely as they did it, you can too.
The following two chapters outline reasons—nonmedical and medical—why you should stop using tobacco.
You may wish to read them next—or you may wish to skip over them and begin the chapters on how to quit. (Some folk may want to save the next two chapters for encouraging reading after Quit Day: after they have made the break with tobacco.)