My Drug Addiction
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When I try to explain to a nonsmoker how much I love smoking, I say, only half-joking, "I would be willing to cut off my left hand if I could smoke without getting cancer and dying."
Think about it. Fifty years of getting to smoke with my cup of coffee in the morning, after that exciting or frustrating phone call at work and that delicious cigarette after that filling meal – vs. my left hand.
Really, do I use my left hand that much?
I have just quit cigarettes for the 14th time. I have quit on birthdays. I have quit on wedding anniversaries. I have quit on New Years Day. And I have quit after tearful fights with loved ones. When it comes to quitting, I am a pro.
I have used Nicorette. I have used the patch. I have used Zyban. I have tried them all.
Today, there are very few people who do not know that smoking kills. In the United States alone, 400,000 people die every year from cigarettes. My grandfather died from cigarettes. I saw my grandfather walk around my parents' house dragging an oxygen tank the last two years of his life.
Nonsmokers can't understand why anyone would want to "kill themselves" with this disgusting habit.
There are many reasons why I love smoking. I love the social aspect of it. The instant bond with total strangers as you stand outside a bar on a cold night and smoke that cigarette. It is great for people-watching. Stand on any corner of New York, light up a cigarette and watch the beautiful people walk by. At the same time, it allows me to be alone. When sitting with a group of people at a restaurant or if I need a break from my co-workers, I can step out for a quick moment alone. Cigarettes are a dependable friend. It doesn't matter if it is late or early, cold or hot, if you are happy or sad; your cigarette is there for you.
Of course, smoking is also incredibly addictive. I have read that it is harder to quit cigarettes than it is to quit heroin.
I have learned that with cigarettes, as with all drugs, different people have different relationships with their substance of choice. I remember finding it hard to understand when former problem drinkers would say that if they had even one drink, they would eventually go back to binge drinking. Well, after being hooked on cigarettes, I understand.
I am envious of people who say things like: "I only smoke when I drink." Whether it's booze or nicotine, moderation is the right path for many. But no, if I have one cigarette, before I know it, I am smoking a pack a day!
One difference between me and other substance abusers is that my drug is legal. I will never be threatened with jail for my addiction. I will never have to break into a house to get money to pay for a pack of smokes. I will not lose my kids because of my struggles with nicotine.
So why is it that we arrest people who have addictions to illicit drugs? It can't be because these illegal drugs are more lethal; cigarettes kill far more people than all illicit drugs combined. And thank God we don't treat cigarettes like other drugs. I guarantee you that if we made cigarettes illegal, you would not only fail to keep people from smoking, but you would also create a similar black market filled with violence and shootings and prisons filled with tobacco addicts.
It's been a few weeks since my last cigarette. I am tired of fighting with my girlfriend about hurting my health. I don't want my cigarettes to again play a negative role in a relationship with a woman that I love. I pray this time that I am successful in giving up this destructive addiction. I do not want to have to explain to family and friends yet again that I have slipped and have started smoking again.
If you are a nonsmoker trying to help a loved one quit, you should remember that relapse is part of quitting, not a sign of failure. Some people have to quit many times before they finally kick their habit.
When we addicts relapse, it is not a rejection of those who are trying to help us. We want to stop hurting ourselves more than anyone. Remember that solidarity and patience from loved ones is crucial for anyone trying to improve their health and reduce the harmful effects of their substance use.
Tony Newman is communications director at the Drug Policy Alliance. He is quitting smoking for the 14th time.