Smokers On Ice

Walking home from work tonight, with the temperature plummeting rapidly and already down below 10 degrees, I saw one of the people at the outdoor bus stop in front of the Ohio Statehouse smoking a cigarette.  And I thought:  “Really? Smoking in these ridiculous temperatures?”

a9a4f5381b5f6269a640259f845f9c7f-dart-frogs-cold-handsKish makes fun of me, because as a long reformed ex-smoker — I puffed my last cigarette more than 25 years ago and am forever happy that I quit when I did — I’m always quick to wonder aloud how anyone can smoke, period, even though I smoked off and on for a number of years.  In that regard, I’m like the one-time sinner turned into a holier-than-thou convert.  But if smoking under normal conditions seems crazy, given its abundantly documented health risks, smoking a cigarette outside in these temperatures seems especially insane.  In fact, there is some evidence that smoking outside during freezing temperatures is even worse for you than smoking is generally.

In Columbus, you can’t smoke in most buildings as a matter of law, so at our firm, and in other businesses, the few remaining smokers have to go outside to indulge in their habit.  You’d think that, as the mercury plunges into bitterly cold territory, the smokers would decide to refrain from going outside into the deep freeze and maybe even consider quitting altogether.  But when you pass the smoking area outside, behind our building, there’s always a few people puffing away, even on a day like today.  They look terribly cold, and act like they feel terribly cold, but they’re out there smoking, anyway.  It’s a pretty good indication of how addictive smoking is for some people — and a pretty good advertisement for why you shouldn’t start smoking in the first place.

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Mr. Enthusiasm

Yesterday Kish and I had a fine day at our new digs  in German Village. We took some nice walks through the neighborhood and Schiller Park, enjoyed looking at the old homes, discovered a store that sells vintage candy (including Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy, the Great White Whale of hard-to-find candy of yesteryear), and experienced first-hand the straight shot five-minute “commute” to my office.

We had lunch at the Olde Mohawk, a comfortable former speakeasy turned neighborhood joint that I’d never eaten at before. As Kish and I chatted and I was enjoying a very tasty Great Lakes Brewery seasonal Christmas ale and a juicy cheeseburger at the Mohawk, I was brimming with enthusiasm for our new adventure.

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This display of boosterism made Kish smile, because it is a familiar trait. When I quit smoking once and for all more than 20 years ago I promptly began raving about how great it was to be smoke-free and how I couldn’t believe that I — or anyone else for that matter — ever smoked in the first place. When we go on trips overseas I wax rhapsodic about the interesting culture, architecture, and food. When Richard and Russell started at their various institutes of higher learning I praised the almost tangible sense of scholarly purpose those academic bastions exuded.

In short, I tend to approach most ventures — that is, those not involving being a sports sports — with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Why not? There’s time enough for brutal reality to intrude and temper perceptions, but if you can’t be enthusiastic at the outset you’re missing out on part of the fun.

The Canadian Approach To Cigarette Labels

In America, warning labels on cigarette packs are a continuing source of controversy.  Most recently, the Food and Drug Administration had to retreat from requiring cigarette manufacturers to include graphic photos on cigarette packs after an appeals court found the mandatory labels violated the First Amendment.

The FDA photos were macabre, and included pictures of a corpse, diseased lungs, and a man with a tracheotomy puffing away with smoke coming from the hole in his throat. The FDA presumably thought the disgusting images would shock people into not buying cigarettes.  In our culture, however, would the labels actually discourage anyone — or would smokers, would are already used to social exclusion and often seem to smoke to cultivate a rebel image, just try to collect all nine images?  We’ll never know.

IMG_4387In Canada, where Russell (unfortunately) bought a pack of Camels yesterday, the approach is different.  His pack included a picture of a smoker who has emphysema and now must breathe with the help of an oxygen tank, but it also .  included a loose, wallet-sized card with a message (in both French and English, of course) from a smiling woman who successfully quit.  She says quitting was hard, but she was ashamed of being a smoker and felt guilty about her habit.  The first few days were tough, she concedes, but after she made it past the initial cravings she became more proud of herself and her will to quit got stronger.

I don’t know whether smoking labels make a difference.  In America, the number of smokers has fallen, but there remains a solid core of smokers and it is popular with younger people — even after the health issues are described in brutal detail.  I wonder if the Canadian approach, with the sad photo presented side-by-side with a positive story about quitting, is more likely to produce results.

Quitting Smoking

Uncle Mack’s post about reaching age 70 got me thinking about quitting smoking.  It’s one of the things he advises you do to reach that milestone.  Of course, every public health expert and doctor agrees.

I smoked for years.  I started in 1975, after I graduated from high school.  When I was in college everyone smoked, and I did, too.  I continued smoking through my first post-college job at the Toledo Blade because every reporter smoked.  Shortly after Kish and I moved to Washington, D.C., I quit.   After about a year, I went to law school and started smoking again.  I smoked throughout law school, then quit when I began my judicial clerkship after graduation.  When we moved to Columbus and I started at the law firm, I took up smoking again.  In 1992, I quit again — this time for good.  I haven’t smoked a cigarette for about 20 years.

My cigarette of choice was Salem Lights.  I smoked about half a pack a day.  I lit up first thing in the morning because it gave me a kick start (and also seemed to encourage certain plumbing functions, if you know what I mean).  I smoked later in the day, when I would hit that attention wall in mid-afternoon and needed a jolt.  I smoked when I watched crucial football games.  I smoked when I went to bars and parties.  For the most part, it was a method of dealing with stressful situations — but I never felt like I had to have a cigarette. It really was more of a habit than an addiction, one that seemed to help me focus.

It wasn’t hard to quit.  I decided I didn’t want to smoke anymore — the impact of smoking on the longevity of Webner males is horrendous — and I just stopped.  I quit cold turkey, without patches, hypnotism, or gaining 100 pounds.  I avoided temptation for a few weeks, and then really didn’t miss it anymore.

I think people are very different in that regard.  For some people, like me, quitting really isn’t that tough.  For others, who are in thrall to nicotine cravings, it is impossible chore.  I don’t think we should judge those who smoke — they clearly know that it poses health risks, but they either don’t care or are in the grip of a powerful addiction that they just can’t shake.  Either way, it’s not for me to browbeat them about their personal habits.

To those Webners who still smoke, I would only say that I have been a heck of a lot happier since I quit.  I feel better, cleaner, and healthier.  Quitting smoking was one of the very best decisions I ever made, and I recommend it.