Thursday, November 17, 2005

Forget the Cigarettes, Cheswick

By Conrad Spencer

No one needs another quit-smoking testimonial, but somehow I can't let the Great American Smokeout pass without noting that this is first year the observance has not been a personal source of guilt. I quit smoking seven months ago after 13 years (ages 13-26) of smoking, many of those years at a pack a day.

It wasn't so much the fear of death that motivated me to quit. Even at 27, I'm still young enough to carry the delusion of immortality. Twenty-seven is old enough, however, to understand that life can sometimes be very painful. Hence, while death was less of a concern, the "long, slow, painful" bit preceding the death produced considerable worry.

I used to joke that by the time I got lung cancer, medical technology would have advanced to the point it wouldn't be a problem. It's a risky bet, and it's really much more likely that medical technology will have advanced to the point of simply extending a miserable existence.

As I watched grandparents, who are non-smokers with weight issues, struggle with feats of athletic heroism like walking, I thought about how nice it would be to be active and able-bodied to a very old age, then became very dead very quickly and very painlessly.

Still, those wishes for an easy demise are a long way from quitting, but when my son, then four, said in his pre-k wisdom, "Daddy, if you don't stop smoking, you'll die," I started to give the idea serious thought.

I know that all the pestering from family and friends, all the PSAs and national non-holidays are ineffective or (if you're as passive-aggressive as myself) downright counter-productive. Smokers have to find their own time and their own reasons to quit. They have to get over their terror at facing the world without cigarettes, which can be considerable when you start young and the only adulthood you've ever known has been nicotine-charged. They also have to get over the image and identity problems of quitting, because most of the cool people of the last century smoked (really).

But, it can be done and I wish the greatest success to all those who are giving it a try.


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