I didn't start smoking until my mid-twenties, relatively late. Like most, the progression was slow and steady: stealing drags in college, bumming smokes from friends, caving in and buying a pack for myself.
Now I'm up to a pack every two weeks. Not terrible, but it's time to let it go. I could go into the countless health reasons to quit, but for me, the worst part of smoking is that there's just no upside. Other vices at least have some end goal: alcoholics get drunk, stoners get stoned, meth heads go medieval on bobcats. Smokers? We just return to the state of not wanting a cigarette. With mouths that taste like volcanic ash.
So it's a good time for this year's Great American Smokeout. Started by the American Cancer Society in 1977, the anti-smoking campaign was inspired by a 1971 fundraiser in Randolph, MA that had come up with a win-win scenario: everyone gives up cigarettes for a day and donates the saved money to a local high school scholarship fund. The idea caught fire across the country and by 1976, the California division of the American Cancer Society had successfuly gotten nearly one million smokers to stamp out their butts for the day.
On the cusp of their thirty-fourth anniversary, pretty much everything has changed. Smokers can no longer light up on planes, workplaces, and in most states, bars and restaurants. Cigarettes have been banned in most public parks in Los Angeles, Chicago, and yes, New York. It's invaded our cultural consciousness. When we see actors waving around cancer sticks on television we make assumptions about their character that we wouldn't have made ten, twenty years ago. It's a diagnosis as grim as cancer: what was once considered glamorous, even elegant, is now universally disdained.
"What we have been doing can be characterized as the denormalization of smoking as an acceptable behavior, and positioning it for what it actually is – a killer of nearly half a million Americans every year," says Dr. Dileep Bal, national president of the American Cancer Society on their site.
So how do I plan to go about quitting? I'm not a big believer in patches or nicotine gum. I'm not going cold turkey either. There's really only one thing that's ever worked: Allen Carr's justly-lauded book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Carr, who at one point was up to 100 cigarettes a day, systematically debunks every defense mechanism, excuse, and justification in the mind of the addict. He even instructs you to keep smoking as you read the book, saying he knows you will anyway. The first time I read it I dropped smoking for three months without any cravings or withdrawal. Now that I've relapsed, it's time for round two.
Sure, I'll miss the ceremony of it all: packing, lighting, taking a drag. Also, the social aspect, the camaraderie of huddling outside in the cold on bar nights and office smoke breaks. Being relegated, it turns out, has been a pretty bonding experience. But there's nothing fun about being the last one standing.
The Great American Smokeout starts on November 17.