I’m 35. Born in ’83, I was 18 at the turn of the century. Around this time, everyone smoked cigarettes. It wasn’t like it is now, where spotting a smoker is like glimpsing a giraffe in a parking lot. In my teenage years, you displayed your individuality by what brand you smoked. It said something about you in some strange way.
This was totally amorphous, changing depending on what crowd you ran with. In some circles, Newports were “Freshies”. Around others they were fiber glass that tore up your lungs and left you hacking blood.
My mother smoked Marlboro Reds.
That’s where I started at around 14. I’d sneak a few every now and then. If her pack was full, then I had to wait because I knew she’d catch on. There was a sweet spot where they were loose and a couple missing wouldn’t be noticed. I’d go with a friend or my cousin and giddily ride our bikes to the train tracks and “light up”.
It was fun and exciting and made us feel like adults or something like that. It was bad and so it was what we did. We’d get light-headed and laugh about that, holding our drags in for longer to maximize this effect.
Silly harmless stuff.
As the years went on, I found that cigarettes became an all-encompassing aspect of my life. Couldn’t go an hour without one. Well I could, but it sucked. It always sucked. This is what I hated about smoking even as I thought I liked it; it made me feel like shit. I felt poisoned and sluggish after each one. No one else around me seemed to have this affliction, but it was a major drag. Literally, figuratively, and pun-ily.
As soon as my immune system recovered from the previous smoke, I was needing another one. An endless cycle. I remember wanting to quit right away in the beginning but just hadn’t suffered enough to motivate me. Plus I didn’t really care about my life in those days. Not really. That came much later.
Time kept marching on. It was a constant roller coaster of quitting for brief periods of time, suffering through it, then giving in and picking it back up. All this only to hate it and myself for it, then try quitting again. Looking back on it, I’m surprised at how I was able to bear it. It’s amazing what we as human creatures can adapt to.
My mother asked me why I tortured myself. “Either smoke or don’t.” But it couldn’t be helped. There’s something so exhilarating about denying intense desires that you know are harmful to you. Psychologically, it’s a fascinating struggle. I would notice interesting things about my mind and body, as well as alterations to my lifestyle.
For instance, when you smoke for a long time, then quit suddenly, cold turkey, you will develop a cough in a couple days. At first I didn’t understand it until I began hacking up little brown chunks. A friend of mine told me this was parts of my lungs as they healed themselves from the damage done.
This was my favorite side affect.
I know it sounds gross and weird, but it just felt so good to cough all that junk up. The first time was the most intense. I coughed so much that my voice actually changed for about a week afterward. With every chunk that gets shot out of your lungs, you can literally breathe a little better. I thought it was pretty remarkable.
Another thing I noticed that I loved, was this strange sensation that I had an extra hand. My right hand usually had a cigarette in it, and so I was at a bit of a disadvantage when going about my day. It didn’t seem like it, but when you become accustomed to smoking, and then you quit, you realize that you now have two fully functional hands. It was actually quite liberating.
Along that same line, I also had a couple extra pockets. No longer having to dedicate my right front pocket to a pack of butts, and my fifth pocket to a lighter, I was freed up for other things, or nothing, which was nice. Nothing more comfortable than empty pockets.
Am I right?
How about extra lungs? As I mentioned before, I hacked up all the burned, singed and stained innards to clear the way for fresh, pink ones to do their job again. I wasn’t getting winded walking up a single flight of stairs or running…well I never ran so I actually could run if I so chose.
Which reminds me, I started going to the gym shortly after one of my major quitting sessions of 2 years.
Fast forward through more on and off struggles with cigarettes and along came E-Cigs. They were around for a couple years before I tried them. I figured they were just stupid and wouldn’t get the job done.
Boy was I wrong.
When I finally tried them, that first drag was a breath of fresh, delicious vapor. It was way more satisfying than its old-fashioned counterpart. I don’t think I was fully aware of it before, but my addiction was the feeling in the back of my throat. A term floated around in the vaping community that described that perfectly:
That was it. That was the high I was after and the reason why I smoked in the first place.
I also quickly noticed that I didn’t have the same polluted feeling in my body. It was like I had always wanted: the satisfaction of smoking without the horrible health issues (or so I thought).
I wondered if the ash-flicking aspect would be missed but was pleasantly surprised to discover that I didn’t care. It was so convenient to not have smoke and stink everywhere, no chance of setting the house on fire, no gross ashtrays and butts all over the ground. It was also pretty cool for a short period where vaping indoors was allowed.
That didn’t last very long.
After a brief stint of minor chaos, society righted itself again and treated vaping the same as smoking. Some of it was a bit annoying, but I can understand why. Same as cigarettes, you may have the right to do what you want with your body, but not when it affects others negatively. At least not in a world where sanity prevails.
So I kept it tucked under my pillow, snuck drags in public bathrooms and quietly went along my way.
From e-cigs came the vape pen where I could choose the liquids and flavors. It was a good transition. Not much maintenance and a better experience with opportunities to fine tune the nicotine strength. The higher the nicotine content, the stronger the throat hit. I went full 18 milligrams at first, ignoring the clerk’s cautions. It didn’t kill me but I could see why he advised a lower milligram.
Whew, that was some strong shit.
From there it was the mod boxes. They’re machines that have all types of settings that I hardly even scratched the surface of. It was a fine upgrade and I had my fun getting to know the ins and outs as best I could. I got more into the flavors and found my niche. It was the creams and custards that I enjoyed the most. Those fruity candy flavors weren’t really for me.
Anyway, suddenly everyone was blowing huge clouds. I thought it was impressive and kind of cool, but after a while it became a bit obnoxious. It had its place in time, but it seems even these are going the way of the tobacco-filled cigarette. I hardly see anyone vaping anymore. Maybe I don’t get out much, but it doesn’t seem nearly as prevalent as it once did, in the not-so-distant past.
I probably would have kept vaping if not for the fact that my lungs were beginning to suffer again. There was talk about something called “Popcorn Lung” floating around and I was afraid I may come down with the affliction.
A quick Google search of “Popcorn Lung” gave me this as the top result:
Popcorn lung is a slang term used for a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans (B0). … One of the inhaled chemicals associated with the cause of popcorn lung is Diacetyl. Diacetyl is a chemical used in many processed foods to impart a buttery or creamy flavor.
That type of BO is so much worse than my usual struggle with that particular letter combination. Plus, it was the buttery creamy flavors that I was drawn to. Apparently the worst thing about vaping is inhaling the flavors.
Turns out, flavors are for tongues, not lungs.
The term Popcorn Lung conjured up images of popping air sacs bursting within my chest like heated kernels. Apparently this term was coined from the effect it had on workers in popcorn factories. They’d breathe in the flavorants and develop this unfortunate condition.
I had also heard that the lungs don’t heal quite as well from “the vapors” as they do from smoking (refer to the disgusting TMI above).
For the past year or so, I’ve had more struggles with cigarettes. It’s been on and off since picking it back up for reasons I shan’t bother to disclose here. I’m way over my time limit.
Me: Good luck getting anyone to read up to this point.
Also me: Ditto
At the time of this writing, I am 30 days nicotine-free. I accomplished this by using patches. They gave me some wild-ass dreams.
The original plan for this article was to fill you in on that aspect of this journey, but as you can see…
It’s a long story.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Brian Relay is a digital artist with ten years of random work experience that loosely relates to his field of study. He lives in New Hampshire with his Batman figurines and his collection of half-resolved issues. Together with his un-imaginary friend, they’ve successfully completed their very first comic book. Also, he recently picked up his novel-in-progress (NIP) that was collecting digi-dust for an embarrassing amount of time. He’ll let you know when it’s done.