Dreaming About Smoking

It’s been more than a quarter century since I quit smoking.  I gave up the nasty habit back in in the early ’90s, when the kids were little, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.

how-to-get-rid-of-cigarette-smokeLast night, however, I had a very vivid dream about smoking.  I was sitting somewhere, among a group of people, lighting a cigarette and taking a deep puff.  I felt the familiar leaden sensation in my chest as I did so and the harsh, acrid taste in my mouth and throat.  Wherever I was, it was clear that I had been chain-smoking cigarette after cigarette.  My dream self was sadly aware that I had previously successfully quit smoking for a long period of time but had started up again for some reason and was now hooked once more.  As I puffed away, I felt tremendous feelings of regret and guilt and shame and embarrassment that I had been so weak and stupid to retreat and would now have to try to quit all over again.  It was an incredibly realistic, powerful dream that startled me awake in the middle of the night.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a prior dream about smoking — at least, not one that I remember.  I have no idea why I would have such a dream now, as I have zero interest in taking up smoking again.  It’s pretty amazing that a habit I ditched more than 25 years could still call up such vivid images.  I suppose it shows that the smoking memories and my prior smoking self are still in my consciousness somewhere, lurking deep below the surface, ready to be tapped during an unconscious moment.

I was very grateful when I awoke and realized it was all a dream and that I remained contentedly smoke-free.  In fact, I can’t think of a recent dream where I’ve been happier and more relieved to find it was only a dream.  If my subconscious, just to be on the safe side, was trying to send me a message that there should be no backsliding, the message was received.

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Coffin Nail Fail

Here’s some good news:  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics reported this week that the percentage of the adult population that smokes cigarettes has reached its lowest level since the government began keeping track of that activity.

11034958_web1_m-smoking-edh-171122The CDC report concluded that, in 2017, 13.9 percent of the adult population in the United States smoked cigarettes.  That number is down from 15.5 percent in 2016, and has been steadily declining over the years.  Back in the 1960s, more than 40 percent of American adults smoked.  Ask anyone who was around during the ’60s, and you’ll hear stories that give you an idea about just how dramatically things have changed since then.  When UJ and I went with our grandparents to University of Akron Zips basketball games back in those days, for example, people could smoke in the hallways before entering the seating area.  At halftime when you walked through the hallway to get popcorn or a hot dog, you walked through a thick, gag-inducing wall of smoke emitted by throngs of smokers.  Now — unless you’re in a Las Vegas casino — you almost never encounter even a whiff of smoke in a public place.

Why are the numbers of smokers falling?  Some attribute it to aggressive ad campaigns against smoking and some attribute it to changes in general social mores; others think that a positive feedback loop may have occurred, where the decline in the number of smokers means people see fewer smokers and aren’t tempted to start smoking themselves in the first place.  There’s also another reason for the decline:  call it coincidence, but people who are smokers often seem to have fatal health problems, like the cancers that claimed three of the heavy smokers in my family.

While the overall trends are encouraging, there’s still work to be done.  Even though adult smokers now number less than 14 percent of the population, that still amounts to millions of people who are in the grip of a very bad habit.  And the statistics show a real disparity in the percentage of smokers by location, with city dwellers much less likely to smoke than residents of rural areas.  We need to continue to work on getting current smokers to quit, and convincing potential smokers to never pick up one of those coffin nails in the first place.

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.

The Smoking Lounge

My departure gate in the Atlanta airport today is located right next to the B concourse “Smoking Lounge.”  I realized it when I walked past just as someone exited the room and I caught an unmistakable whiff of cigarette smoke.

It’s not much of a “lounge, ” really — just a spartan room where smokers can gather cheek by jowl and puff away like mad.  It seemed like everybody in that room was trying to inhale as much smoke as they could, as fast as they could, and when they walked out they reeked of smoke.  It reminded me of the “teacher’s lounge” in high school, where any teacher walking out would trail a cloud of smoke. 

It’s kind of weird to see a Smokers Lounge in an American airport in our modern, anti-smoking world.

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.