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