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But I Like to Smoke

I hear that so much when the subject of quitting smoking cigarettes comes up. They always say it with such over-enthusiasm that it’s hard to believe them.

Harder for me, because I know that they are lying, and they don’t even know it themselves. They only think they like to smoke. Their bodies, if they could talk without their brains, may have another take on smoking completely.

But what the smokers are really saying to me is, "I like satisfying my urge to smoke, and I’ve grown accustomed to the taste and smell." It may also mean that they like the ritual of smoking.

What they like is that cigarettes are dependable, handy, and contribute to the smoker’s self-image. I’ve even heard them called, "my best friend", by a man who knew full well that this "friend" was killing him. Yet he made almost rational excuses for continuing to smoke.

What originally attracted and ultimately addicted most of us to smoking was not the physical act itself. Clearly, if that were the case, we’d have enjoyed the first cigarette we smoked.

It would have given us the "pure pleasure" that the ads claimed it would. But how many people do you know who truly enjoyed their first cigarette and went on to become a pack a day smoker immediately?

I’ve never heard of one.

No, the first time was not pleasant for anyone. It was a painful, nauseating, ugly experience for most. My throat hurt, first from the smoke, then from the prolonged coughing that followed.

I became sick to my stomach, and had that "green" feeling for hours. Brushing my teeth didn’t seem to get that taste out of my mouth.

But did I see the experience for what it truthfully was, and vow never to do it again?

No!

I went on to overcome the challenge to my better senses and became that pack a day smoker. I figured if the rest of my gang could do it, I could too…or die trying.

Which brings us to why we really began to smoke and why we continue to smoke. What were we really after with that first cigarette?

Can we all agree it was not for the pleasure of the "smoking experience"?

It was, I believe, mainly for three reasons. First, to appear more mature than our looks and age would otherwise have others estimate us.

We thought, if I smoke like an adult, then I’ll look more like an adult. And that was true…but only to the other children our age and younger.

The real adults saw us smoking and said to themselves, look how young that kid with the cigarette is.

Second, smokers look sexy. At least that’s the way they were portrayed to me at every turn when I was growing up.

All from John Wayne to Liz Taylor to James Dean have had moments in film when the cigarette played an important role toward projecting that sexuality the director was looking for in that shot. Wayne even did television commercials for cigarettes.

And if "The Duke" said it was good, who was a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old to say or think differently? Posing with a cigarette…pure sexy…or at least it used to be.

Third is the one I alluded to above. To be accepted by our peers. If everyone in your group smoked, you were definitely the odd man out if you didn’t.

It was fun to be part of an illicit group act. To jointly rebel by breathing smoke from fire.

But now, all these years later, how valid are those original reasons to smoke? How much is the "liking" to smoke still based in those original reasons?

What if none of those reasons are valid any longer? What does that mean now?

Is the smoker saying they like being addicted to nicotine, and smelling offensively to those around them who do not smoke?

What I believe is that even though the original reasons for beginning to smoke have long since expired, they are still the driving force behind our smoking.

They are programs still running in our subconscious. They  justify and validate the ridiculous behavior of breathing toxic smoke from poisonous weeds wrapped in paper chemically treated to keep the fire going.

Without them, we would really have no reason to smoke, no motivation.

But do we realize this on a conscious level? No, obviously we do not.

When we even consider why we continue to smoke, we say it is because we’re addicted to the nicotine, and it’s too difficult to break free.

I think that’s nonsense.

How can we be addicted to nicotine that’s not been in our systems for years, decades?

Yet many smokers relapse into their old habits, and at their old levels of consumption after any number of years.

Recently I heard of a man abstaining for twenty years, and was back to a pack a day within three days of his return to cigarettes.

Couldn’t have been nicotine addiction, could it?

I’ve heard that nicotine is more addictive than heroin. In fact, I recently saw a survey of one thousand long-term heroin addicts who were also long-term smokers, who were asked that specific question.

I seem to remember that about 40% said that they could quit heroin easier than cigarettes. Seems like an awfully powerful drug, doesn’t it?

Yet here’s a postulation. Take any number of subjects who are neither addicted to heroin or nicotine, and put two patches on each.

One will be a measured dose of heroin, the other nicotine, each calculated to addict.

After one month, I believe every single one of the test subjects would rather give up the nicotine patch before the heroin patch.

Why? Because the nicotine isn’t doing anything for them. There is no real "high" from nicotine.

So what is it that’s so addicting? I believe it’s the craving to meet those needs established by those original three reasons, which are still running inside us.

We still want to appear mature, sexy, and fit in. We were committed to achieve that by smoking.

We are still committed to those reasons. But we never think about that anymore.

We just act it out.

What can be done? Then what’s the answer?

It’s this. Stop those old programs from running in our subconscious. Rethink the reasons. And not just once or twice.

These programs have been running a long time, and reinforced by smoking hundreds of thousands of times.

It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of reprogramming events to change or delete those old programs.

When the body is moving away from pain, it tends to take greater strides than it will toward pain.

Smoking is painful, even if the smoker cannot consciously feel that pain any longer.

Sometimes changing one’s mind at its core can be experienced in a blazing epiphany in a flash of a moment.

But not often.

The type of change to lose the urge to smoke generally consists of acts not monumental, but incremental.

Bit by bit, piece by piece, those reasons can be removed from the subconscious.

Once that’s done, there is no reason left to smoke, therefore no urge.

The difference between just stopping smoking and removing the reasons for smoking is the difference between being a smoker living in denial and truly being a non-smoker.

The first has urges that are constantly, perpetually, subconsciously denied.

The second never has an urge because they never have a reason creating one.

No matter how much a person says they like to smoke, I've never found one who didn't like not smoking even more.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the way we remember it, and how those memories affect our lives today.

 

August, 2006
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