Deathly pall over cigarettes


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Category: Health Care Date: 02 Aor 00

I was introduced to cigarettes when I was 16 by a stunning Iranian teenager sitting on a fallen tree, with six other pairs of school girl feet immersed in damp autumn leaves, within the secrecy of the “woods” in provincial England.


Nagar - tall, and voluptuous - had silky jet-raven hair, a flawless creamy complexion and attitude for days. She was saying in her husky, instinctive sexy voice, “A man will only look at you depending on how you hold and smoke your cigarette.” She inhaled deeply, and exhaled, making a perfect “O” with her cupid bow lips. We stared entranced.


She passed it around like a joint. Each girl took a drag with the kind of delicious thrill you get when you’re that age and doing the forbidden. When it was my turn, my heart thudding, I took the cigarette and was embarrassingly uncool as I doubled over coughing and spitting. Nagar looked at me pityingly and said, with her charming heavily accented voice, “Never mind, I will show you.”


For me the hook was that glossy image of smoking: Nagar, a profusion of golden leaves in a carefree September. Everyone’s initiation is different but the feelings with starting your first cigarette are much the same - the endless possibility of youth, a gleeful conspiracy with peers, a sense of abandon and rebellion, casual sexy sophistication.


Who knows what feeds adolescent minds with all the subliminal images that heady pull of a cigarette has come to represent - films and pop stars, posters and sensuous smoky bars, reckless, soulful angst-ridden men and women who live on the edge, like Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Parker.


That first cigarette toughened into a mild addiction that kept me smoking through watching a robust large framed family friend whittle into a skeleton in months and die of lung cancer. His last words to me literally were, “Don’t smoke”.


Through two pregnancies, after I had each of my children, I sat and puffed with relief outside the nursing home, still bloated, and exhausted; through watching smoker friends spit blood, and reading warnings and statistics of how many it killed this year or that.


I don’t know if I was physically addicted but I was certainly psychologically addicted. My small quota, the small ceremonious gestures of lighting-up in solitude, made me relaxed and self-contained. I’ve often thought how awful it smells, how it prevents me from getting fit, how ill it made me at times, but the addiction and aura always won.


It so happened that on the precise moment I received the poison list on the e-mail from a fellow smoker titled “EEEK!!” I was reeling with sick effects of a cigarette. It was a list of addictive, carcinogenic, toxic and cancer-causing substances present in Imperial Tobaccos Player’s Light Regular cigarettes released by the British Columbian provincial government: Ammonia, 2-aminonaphthalene, 1-aminonaphthalene,4-aminobiphenyl, 3-aminobiphenyl, Benzo(a)pyrene, Formal-dehyde, Acetaldehyde, Acetone, Acrolein, Propionaldehyde, Crotonaldehyde, Methyl ethyl ketone, Butyralde-hyde, Hydrogen, Cyanide, Mercury, Nickel, Lead, Cadmium, Chromium, Arsenic, Selenium, Nitric Oxide, Pyridine, Quinoline, Hydro-quinone, Resorcinol, Catechol, Phenol, m+p-cresol, o-cresol, Tar, Nicotine, Carbon Monoxide, 1,3-butadiene, Isoprene, Acrylonitrile, Benzene Toluene.


I didn’t know what it meant but I felt sick. I got scared. I stopped. I felt better. My doctor, a real pack-a-day ex-smoker, who stopped after he began to get severe headaches linked with smoking, patiently ran through it all again. If you are anaemic, smoking could lead to severe oxygen deprivation making you dizzy and weak. It is associated with 40 diseases. It kills everything. Its bad for the lungs, the heart, the bladder, the works. Bad if you have respiratory diseases. Affects the nose, throat, ears, interferes with your sex life, fertility, pregnancies. He’d heard it before and said it all before. Words don’t get people to start or quit. Feelings do.


Those who quit are not heroic. It’s a fist-in-your-gut fear. You stop after a parent or best friend succumbs to cancer. Or you stop when you’re living on borrowed time - if you feel sick or scared enough.


Quitting is scary because it means you have to start believing in your mortality so ironically it is a kind of a loss of faith. It is also exhilarating because it allows control over your own body and impulses and mastering ones own impulses brings a heady power especially to people who are not used to denying themselves pleasure.


There is nothing as irritating as a sanctimonious ex-smoker, but I’ve also spoken to many who say they LOVE smoking, will always love it, but will fight the urge all the way because they prefer to be alive and wanting a cigarette, than be dead and not need one.


A “Wellness Letter” from the University of California, Berkley, claims that a study has proven that every cigarette a man smokes reduces his life by 11 minutes. A pack represents a day and a half of his life. Every year that pack shortens his life by two months. The result is based on the difference in life expectancy between male smokers and non-smokers.


I just keep thinking of that poison list and it casts a deathly pall over every alluring image of cigarettes I’ve ever had.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur